In a May 29 article, we released the 30 finalists for The Bootleg Honor Roll award for the 2008/2009 school-year.
The criteria are as follows:
Each academic year, The Bootleg's Honor Roll will recognize the top ten Stanford student-athletes who have performed at an exceptional level, with athletic accomplishments that are both extraordinary and inspirational. While achieving athletic success, these athletes should also have displayed uncommon leadership, sportsmanship and respect towards their fellow teammates and opponents. Finally, these honorees' performances and actions should also demonstrate their love for their particular sport as well as their school pride, the famed "Spirit of Stanford."
During the months of June and July, we are releasing the 10 winners of this prestigious award, one by one. The Bootleg has announced swimmer Julia Smit and volleyball's Cynthia Barboza and Foluke Akinradewo as 2008/09 Honor Roll winners. Our fourth announced member of The Bootleg's 2008-09 Honor Roll is gymnastics' Sho Nakamori.
At The Bootleg, we don't wholly buy the cliché that there exist clutch performers. The statistical evidence is strong, and just using our brains and common sense, it's inarguable that luck plays a major role too. A ballot's designed differently in Florida and Al Gore's not the choke artist cast into exile by the Democratic Party, but its president. (For 70 percent of Americans, the good news would have been no W., but for me, the bad news would have been no beard.) Brook Lopez releases a tenth of a second earlier, two inches to the left, with a smidgeon more energy or with a touch less arc, and he's not the hero of the Marquette contest who carried the team on his back, but a selfish player who ignored his teammates to force a fade away with a man in his face.
So, certainly, morning-after justification is in the very DNA of sports, but what about what our lying eyes have seen? Michael Jordan pushing off, popping and pumping his arm against Utah, Stephen Curry keeping Davidson alive NCAA game after NCAA game with each three-pointer more improbable than the last, LeBron James scoring the Cavs' final 27 points in Game 5o f the Conference Finals against my hometown Pistons. Perhaps the power of clutch play is most evident in its absence. For Stanford football against UCLA in 2005 and again last year, as soon as UCLA got the ball and started deciding drive, everyone knew what the conclusion would be.
Ultimately though, whether performance with the clock at :01 and counting is clutch, luck or some messy Venn diagram of an overlap of the two, watching athletes respond under pressure is in the very DNA of sport itself. Fair or not, sport is like stand-up comedy or the forty-yard dash in this regard – timing matters. (Speaking of men's gymnastics and the importance of timing, our heart absolutely breaks for fellow ‘08er David Sender, who had just won the Visa U.S. Championships at the start of last summer, and was in strong contention for a spot on the US Olympic Team, only to suffer an injury at the worst possible time.) At the collegiate level, we're biased toward national champions, what can we say? And for gymnastics' Sho Nakamori, events never better fell into place for a storybook ending than they did this past season.
Nakamori hinted at what was to come when he won MSPF Gymnast of the Year honors and then backed up the honor by helping then top-ranked Stanford capture the MSPF championship with four individual titles at the league meet. At the meet, he scored a Stanford season-best 15.25 on the pommel horse en route to a 91.85 all-around score, winning the all-around, pommel horse, parallel bars and high bar titles in the process. Following that tour de force, Nakamori was named a finalist for the Nissen-Emery Award, NCAA gymnastics' Heisman Trophy. He wouldn't win the award, given the night before the start of the NCAA Finals. Perhaps that was the motivation he needed, because the NCAA Tournament ended with no doubt as to who the nation's best gymnast was.
In the qualifying round of the finals, Nakamori posted scores of 15.05 and 15.00 (with gymnastics switching from a 10-point scale, scores are no longer intuitive, but suffice it to say any score 15 or higher is superb) to lead the Cardinal to first in their qualifying group and onto the next day's finals without event. Then, on a Friday night in Minneapolis, the real fireworks came. The redshirt senior won the parallel bars with a 15.200 and tied for sixth on the horizontal bars 14.750, more than enough to lead Stanford to the national title by a comfortable 1.3-point margin over Cal, redeeming last year's runner-up finish by 0.45 points.
The subsequent individual event finals provided more of a stage for Nakamori to shine as a solo gymnast, and he didn't disappoint. He posted top-eight finishes on the parallel bars (14.650), horizontal bar (14.75) and floor exercise (15.325) to claim three more All-American careers and cap his career haul at eight.
Outside Stanford, Nakamori was named to the Senior Men's National Team for the third consecutive year. Off the gymnastics mat, Nakamori posted a 3.22 GPA as a Japanese major, and volunteered at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital and Relay for Life.
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