Hailing from Milton, Ontario, Canada, second-year Nebraska gymnast Yanni Chronopoulos entered the Nebraska men’s gymnastics team as another member of the surprisingly long pipeline between Canada and Husker Gymnastics.
One of Chronopoulos’ close friends on the team is senior gymnast Jake Bonnay, the second of two Canadians on the Nebraska roster. Chronopoulos’ road to becoming a Husker, however, was much murkier than his Canadian counterpart.
While Bonnay has struggled with his share of injuries in his career, Chronopoulos suffered an injury that put him in a tough position at a young age. At just 14, Chronopoulos tore his ACL, a rare injury for someone as young as Chronopoulos was at the time. He had to undergo a special juvenile procedure in order to keep his growth plate in place, he then had to undergo rehab for two years to get back to his peak shape.
“It was really tough for me with all the rehab, and there were definitely times when I wasn’t sure I was going back to how I was before,” Chronopoulos said. “My goal was to come back to the Canada Games as I had been there when I was 14 years old. I knew the next one would be my last chance, so I pushed myself so I could go back.
Chronopoulos competed in the Canada Games at age 14, facing opponents as young as 19. He knew at the time that the next Canada Games, which take place every four years, would be his last chance.
Chronopoulos would unfortunately only have one place to make the plays, but said he had gained something invaluable throughout the experience – a completely new attitude.
“After this disappointment, I realized that I had to approach training in a totally different way with my attitude,” Chronopoulos said. “I would judge my day at the gym by how hard I worked and not necessarily the results. I knew that if I worked, the results would follow.
After a somewhat disappointing first year for Chronopoulos, his work ethic has grown. After watching the Big Ten Championships from the stands and the first day of the NCAA Tournament from his couch, Chronopoulos was determined to improve his sophomore year.
“When he came home he was still working out in the gym, and I really saw something in him clicking and he pushed himself even harder than he had been,” the head coach said. of Nebraska Men’s Gymnastics, Chuck Chmelka. “I was very impressed with how hard he worked over the summer and he came back to campus with the same drive and work ethic, and it really paid off this season.”
Chronopoulos has now taken a significant leap forward in its second season. He takes part in four events, against only two last year. Chmelka said he plans to move Chronopoulos to even more events to improve his general skills as a gymnast. Chronopoulos’ expanded role on the team means he now competes in solid rings, pommel horse, parallel bars and high bar.
“We are working with him to add some additional skills that we are looking for him to compete at some point this season,” Chmelka said. “I was really impressed with his maturity and composure. He never goes too high or too low, which I’ve always noticed with him, but it’s really increased this year with his focus.
Chronopoulos’ goal this season is clear: to compete and help his team at the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Tournament.
He has put himself in an excellent position to do so with his performances so far this season, but knows he needs to stay focused to achieve his goal. After a strong performance at the Rocky Mountain Open, Chronopoulos established himself in Big Ten play, placing in the top three in all three of his events against Penn State on Feb. 5.
“I’m in a very good position with the improvements I’ve been able to make this season, but I know nothing is ever set in stone or guaranteed,” Chronopoulos said. “I know I have to keep working hard and staying focused so I can accomplish what I want this season to be able to help my team in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.”