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Genki Suzuki: Path to Greatness

Born in Okinawa, Japan, University of Oklahoma senior Genki Suzuki never imagined the path gymnastics would take him on.

Suzuki’s family moved from Japan to the United States when he was eight years old for his father to practice cardiothoracic surgery. They made their home in Ann Arbor, Mich., for four years before picking up and moving again, this time to Iowa City, Iowa. Finally, when Suzuki was 15 his family found a home in the Philadelphia suburb of North Wales, Pa.

An under-the-radar gymnast throughout high school, Suzuki was receiving few looks to compete at the collegiate level. That’s when one of his coaches got in contact with Oklahoma head coach Mark Williams. Williams gave Suzuki the opportunity to come to OU and be a part of one of the most tradition-rich gymnastics programs in the country.

“I didn’t really think I was going to be able to get on a team like OU,” said the Sooners’ senior captain. “Back in high school I had the potential, but I wasn’t really consistent. There were really only two coaches looking into my gymnastics, I was kind of bummed.

“One of my coaches back home talked to Mark and he gave me this opportunity. It’s been truly a blessing.”

After stepping onto campus at OU, Suzuki recalls the struggles of being a freshman in college away from home for the first time and juggling the responsibilities of being on a championship-caliber team along with being a full-time student.

“I was doing a lot more gymnastics than I was in high school, adjusting to a new environment on my own, but I had great teammates in my class—Levi (Anderson), Yul (Moldauer), Grant (Kell) and Collyn (Kellogg)—we all bonded pretty quickly,” said Suzuki.

A class that made an immediate impact for the Sooners beginning in 2016, the 2019 senior class heads into their fourth season never having lost a meet—helping OU reach 97 straight victories to be exact—and on the brink of making more NCAA gymnastics history as potentially the first team to win five consecutive national titles.

Suzuki has played his part in the Sooners’ success, competing in all but one meet since his freshman year, claiming All-America honors on high bar as a sophomore and pommel horse his junior season.

The summer of 2018 was a pivotal time for Suzuki and his future as not only a gymnast but as an American citizen. After acquiring his green card in his teens, Suzuki had to wait five years to complete the application for U.S. citizenship and his time had finally come. He went through the process of studying and passing the naturalization test and on April 25, 2018, Suzuki officially became a United States citizen.

“I studied for about two months and I was taking a history course here on campus, so that helped me pass the test pretty easily,” said the senior gymnast. “After passing the test, they gave me my oath date and I went to an elementary school in Oklahoma City and took my oath with about 40 or 50 other people. After, they gave us our certificate and that was pretty much the process.”

From a gymnastics standpoint, citizenship allows gymnasts to compete at the U.S. Championships, an annual competition between the best gymnasts in the country, one of the first steps to competing internationally for Team USA. Although important to Suzuki, he saw plenty other opportunities that this step would give him in his future.

“I’ve already decided that after gymnastics, I want to go to medical school here and becoming a citizen would be very important for that—job opportunities, having the right to vote—other stuff like that,” he said.

Williams credits Genki’s work ethic and maturation as key elements in his journey to where he is now, a four-year competitor and senior team captain.

“Genki can be great and he works extremely hard, but there’s this element he has of being wise and being smart beyond his years,” Williams said. “As if he’s already aware of where he wants to be and how to get there.

“When that time (his citizenship) came, I was excited because he now had the opportunity to go to the U.S. Championships.”

Four months after becoming an American citizen, Suzuki competed at the 2018 U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Boston with ten of his fellow or former teammates.

Suzuki

Just four months after acquiring his U.S. citizenship, Suzuki claimed ninth in the all-around at the 2018 U.S. Championships in Boston.

The freshly-minted U.S. citizen took ninth in the all-around competition (162.80) and placed in the top ten on four events (FX, PH, PB, HB). Suzuki had his best showing on high bar, finishing just shy of a medal with a fourth-place finish and two-day total of 26.950.

Following the conclusion of the championships, Suzuki was one of 12 gymnasts named to the U.S. Senior Men’s National Team. He was also informed that evening that his first international assignment as a member of Team USA would be in less than a month at the 2018 Pan American Championships in Lima, Peru.

Suzuki remembers the overwhelming emotions of his week at the U.S. Championships, “Honestly, I was just filled with emotions, it was kind of like a huge pat on the back.

“I made the team and they told me that night that I was going to Peru to compete. I was shocked. It was my first time going to the championships, first time making a team and now, first time being assigned an international meet all in the same night. It was such a blessing to accomplish those three things on the same day.”

Competing in his first international meet as a member of the senior men’s national team, Suzuki and Team USA won gold as a team at the Pan Am Championships and Suzuki brought home the gold on pommel horse, the event he claimed All-America honors on last season at Oklahoma.

“Genki can be great and he works extremely hard, but there’s this element he has of being wise and being smart beyond his years.”
– Head Coach Mark Williams

Former OU assistant coach and national champion with the Sooners, Taqiy Abdullah-Simmons, coached the Pan Ams team in Lima for the U.S. Abdullah-Simmons was influential in Suzuki’s development as not only a Sooner but on the national stage, as well, helping to calm Suzuki’s nerves in Peru.

“Before the (pommel horse) set, I looked at Taqiy and thought to myself, ‘I’ve done this before, I’ve done this many times, this is nothing compared to the national championships’ and I went up there, did my job and waited for the results,” said Suzuki.

“Eventually, I found out I won horse and it was a very special moment for me.”

After a whirlwind summer of acquiring his citizenship, competing at the U.S. Championships and participating in his first international meet for Team USA, Suzuki is looking forward to making more memories in Norman in 2019.

Claiming more All-America honors and capping his collegiate career with an unprecedented undefeated slate and fifth-straight national title for the Sooners are all on Suzuki’s to-do list as the season approaches.

“It would mean the world to me (to go undefeated all four seasons),” said the senior captain. “It’s almost like a dream. Nobody really goes undefeated all four years of their college career and to be one of those people who could do it makes me feel everything I sacrificed in high school, college and my parents putting me through gymnastics is all worth it in the end.”


The OU men’s gymnastics team begins its pursuit of a fifth consecutive national championship this Saturday, Jan. 12, when the Sooners compete in the Rocky Mountain Open on the campus of Air Force. The home opener is slated for Jan. 19 against Air Force and Arizona State. The meet will serve as both Alumni Night and a tribute meet for former Sooner Jeremy Killen.

Season tickets for all four regular-season home meets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling the University of Oklahoma Ticket Office at (405) 325-2424 or toll free at (800) 456-GoOU. Tickets can also be ordered online by visiting SoonerSports.com/tickets.

For updates and more information on Oklahoma men’s gymnastics, follow the Sooners on Twitter and Instagram (@OU_MGymnastics) and like Oklahoma Men’s Gymnastics on Facebook.



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