Danny Irish almost couldn’t believe his own words Sunday night.
"He’s a world champion," Irish said.
With his performances, Garret Waterstradt often has a way of leaving coach Irish amazed. Such was the case late last week, when the Paxton-Buckley-Loda sophomore gymnast represented Team USA by winning the gold medal in the double-mini in the 15-16-year-old group at the World Age Group Championships in Birmingham, England. A subset of the 28th Trampoline and Tumbling World Championships, the World Age Group Championships represented the highest level of competition Waterstradt could compete at as a 16-year-old.
With the title, he can stake claim to being the best in the world among his age group on the double-mini — an event in which there are two mini-trampolines joined in the middle, with the first at an angle from which skills are performed onto the second.
"It was just the greatest feeling in the world," Waterstradt wrote in an email over the weekend. "Seeing the American flag being raised and our national anthem being played for the whole crowd was just mind-blowing. It was just amazing that I could do something for my country and make it proud of me."
Waterstradt scored a 68.200 in the finals of the double-mini, earning a 34.800 on his first pass and a 33.400 on his second. Tyler Waller, another member of Team USA, took second with a score of 68.000.
In the preliminaries, Waterstradt had taken third among 35 competitors with a score of 68.400. The top eight made the finals, with scores being reset to zero.
Waterstradt thought he executed the two winning passes about as well as he possibly could have.
"I believe that it was the closest to perfect that I could have asked for," he said. "I may have done the passes better or worse in practice, but I believe that I did them well for being under extreme pressure."
"I told him before he left, ‘Stay focused, be aggressive and stick to the program, which is to be dedicated, to be determined and most importantly believe in yourself,’" Irish added. "Everything happened the way we talked about it for months, for years."
One of the biggest keys — and Waterstradt’s biggest concern before heading over — was how he handled his nerves on a national stage around competitors he’d never faced before. Waterstradt said his nerves, for the most part, went away after his performance in the preliminaries. Then he was at his best in the double-mini finals.
"I was so relieved after I finished my passes, then ecstatic when I found out that I had won," Waterstradt said. "My whole thing I tried to follow was to just stay cool, calm and collected."
Waterstradt competed in two more events at the championships. He took 17th out of 33 in power tumbling and 41st out of 64 on the trampoline, not advancing out of the preliminaries in either event. Still, Irish noted that competing in three events was a remarkable feat for Waterstradt because it displayed his diverse skill set; most competitors, including the other Americans, at the championships didn’t compete in multiple events.
Because of his all-around skills, Waterstradt is set up well for the future, Irish said.
"Now the USA is looking at him, and the reason why they are is because he was the only one who competed in three events of all those USA guys," Irish said.
"Garret had to think about three events, and those guys that went against Garret only had to think about one event. Garret still beat them. That tells you a lot."
Waterstradt will head to Indianapolis in a couple weeks for his next competition and continue training, with an eye on future national and world competitions. But no one will blame him if he takes a minute or two to savor his gold medal.
"Am I in a dream right now?" Waterstradt said of his first thought upon taking first. "I was so surprised that I had won in the hardest age group my first year."
"He stayed glued, determined dedicated to what he did and believed in himself. His game plan when he got there, he did what he had to do," Irish said. "It’s beyond amazing."