By Charlie Pinkerton
Sam Zakutney wasn’t disappointed by finishing just shy of the podium at the national championships for gymnastics as it marked a successful return to form for the athlete with international aspirations.
The Ottawa Gymnastics Centre-bred athlete finished 4th all-around at the 2018 Canadian Artistic Gymnastics Championships and was only 0.05 points away from tying the all-around bronze medallist. That mark would have tied his placing from last year.
Zakutney had only positive things to say about his finish, which punctuated his return from an achilles injury that plagued him throughout the second half of his NCAA gymnastics season.
“For the most part I wasn’t too worried about the outcome because I haven’t been the most prepared this year (because of the injury),” the Penn State sophomore said.
The 20-year-old won still walked away from the national championships with some hardware. Zakutney won bronze medals in floor and the parallel bars. He also finished 8th in high bar, 15th in rings, 18th on pommel horse and 18th on vault, which though was tied for his worst finish, was what he said he was most happy with.
“I completed a front-handspring double front (flip), which is a fairly new vault that I only competed well in January,” Zakutney said. “Once I got injured I just haven’t worked it for a while. To have done it really well and to have landed on my feet without falling two days in a row, I was pretty happy with that.”
Zakutney said he hurt his achilles near the beginning of March. His preparation for all-around competitions took a blow because of the injury and he was forced to gradually rebuild his ability to compete across all six of the sport’s events.
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“It was a fairly slow process, but I got basically back to my prime right when the major (NCAA) championships came around,” he said. He said as of June he’s fully recovered from the injury.
Coming off a freshman year in which he won the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award for gymnastics, Zakutney poured in an equally impressive second season with that Nittany Lions. He was named to the Academic All-Big Ten and was a 2018 All-American in parallel bars and high bar, which he finished 3rd and 7th in at the NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championships.
Zakutney will head to Mersin, Turkey for the FIG World Challenge Cup from July 6-8. He’ll also be attending a world trials training camp in Montreal at the end of July. If Zakutney cracks Team Canada, he will debut at the world championships this year.
“I know I can do well on parallel bars and high bars, those are my better events – floor as well. But if I could make my vault a lot more consistent, like as consistent as the national championships were, then I think that will definitely seal the deal for me (to make Canada’s team),” Zakutney said.
A world championships appearance would bring Zakutney one step closer to his ultimate goal of competing at the Olympics.
“Nothing would make me happier,” he added with a laugh.
Zakutney’s teammate Ben Astorga came 2nd in vault in the national open division at nationals.
Three Rideau Gymnastics athlete had podium finishes in single events at the national championships. Nathanael Teng placed 1st in the pommel horse in the national open division. Competing in the same division, Philopateer Malek placed 2nd in floor. Aidan Li placed 2nd in the pommel horse in the 16-17 age group.