Big Ten athletics are, more often than not, associated with football or men’s basketball.
But that’s not what comes to mind for Jake Martin.
When Martin thinks of the Big Ten, the first things that come to his mind are: Ohio State, gymnastics at Michigan and gymnastics at Illinois, the OSU all-around gymnast said.
“I think gymnastics in general is underrated,” he said.
Martin, a junior from Oviedo, Fla., has been a three-time U.S. Junior National Team member, and claimed fifth in the all-around at the 2014 NCAA Championships, along with picking up multiple Gymnast of the Week titles.
When Martin was growing up and was asked where he wanted to attend college, he would mention OSU, and typically hear about the quality of its football team, he said. But he’d instead respond with names of top gymnasts that competed for the Buckeyes.
“Blaine Wilson went here, Raj Bhavsar went there, the Hamm twins,” Martin said. “I know a lot of these things about the school that a lot of people wouldn’t know.”
Wilson is a gymnast who won the Nissen-Emery Award in 1997, which is men’s gymnastics’ equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. He is also a silver medal recipient from the 2004 Athens Olympics. Bhavsar won the bronze medal in the 2008 summer Olympics and twins Paul and Morgan Hamm are American gymnasts who helped the U.S. win multiple medals in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
Gymnastics was Martin’s biggest factor when it came down to attending college, he said. The freezing cold temperatures of Ohio are certainly not what he’s used to from growing up in central Florida, but it was a reasonable trade-off because of OSU’s impressive gymnastics program.
Now with the Buckeyes, Martin has at least one teammate who thinks he’s at the top of the sport.
“(Martin) is one of the best gymnasts in the United States in my opinion,” sophomore all-around Sean Melton said.
While he might be one of the best by his teammate’s standards, there were some who told Martin to take his talents to a different sport when he was younger.
Growing up tall, gymnastics wasn’t the first sport that came to people’s minds for Martin.
“A lot of people told me going into high school, ‘You should probably think about doing other sports to get a scholarship,’” he said. “I did get some kind of grief from people.”
Martin said people sometimes told him “gymnastics is a girl’s sport”, but he just laughed it off.
“I didn’t do gymnastics for anyone,” he said. “I did it for me. So I just thought to myself, ‘If it’s a girl’s sport, I’m just going to enjoy it.’”
Along with honing his craft as a gymnast, Martin said he has high aspirations in the classroom as well.
As a junior international studies major, he’s preparing to take the LSAT in June and is preparing as much as he can to attend law school. Martin said the athletic department and school itself have been helpful during his times of frantic scheduling.
Growing up, Martin appreciated the support he got from his family and friends. Now in college, the two-time All-American has noticed that the atmosphere OSU has sets it apart from the rest.
“You have people in the crowd that you don’t know,” Martin said. “But they’re wearing scarlet and gray so you know they’re cheering for you and you know they’ve got your back.”
Melton said Martin brings more to the team than anyone could ever ask for.
“I think he’s a great leader,” Melton said. “To have him on my team is definitely something we’re happy about and I can’t speak more highly of him.”
Martin discovered his interest in gymnastics when he was a child with a growing curiosity. His cousins taught him how to do a back handspring off of an old mattress, which he mimicked off of his couch, resulting in a sprained thumb.
Shortly after, he was signed up for gymnastics class and within a year, he was signed up for a pre-team because of his impressive progression.
“Once I started gymnastics, that was it … I just decided that this is exactly what I want to do,” he said.
Martin considers gymnastics a sport in which one must always work at perfecting their skill.
“The main goal (in a lot of other sports) is to score,” Martin said.
For gymnastics, however, he said displaying one’s perfectly crafted skills is the main goal.
“We’re using our bodies differently,” he said. “When people think of brute strength, they think of weightlifting. But when you look at still rings, you have to hold these positions and it’s the same thing except our toes are pointed.
“Gymnastics brings this element of brute strength, but we have to make it look good.”
While the 2016 Olympics aren’t for some time, Martin said he uses every practice and competition to hone his skills into becoming a better athlete and an Olympic hopeful.
“It’s nerve-wracking and I try not to think about what’s going to happen a little over a year from now,” he said. “But it is coming up and I have been thinking about it.”