Drew Bonifant: Warner’s Antle an emerging talent on national gymnastics scene
Griffin Antle’s high school career hadn’t even started yet, and his athletic career was at a crossroads.
In one direction, Antle had basketball and football, sports that he had played all his life and was good at. On the other, he had gymnastics, a sport he wasn’t as talented in and that doesn’t offer boys an NHIAA varsity venue.
The choice for the Warner resident was an easy one. He really liked basketball and football. But he loved gymnastics.
“When it came down to it, I just couldn’t see my life not being at Granite State (Gymnastics), without the people here,” Antle said. “I loved gymnastics, too, so the choice ended up being a pretty easy one. And the right one.”
If there was any question then, there isn’t now. Antle, a senior at Derryfield, has turned his passion into status as an elite gymnast at the national level. He’s a state champion and a national runner-up, after a second-place finish in the pommel horse at the Junior Olympic National Championships in Long Beach, Calif., earlier this month. He’s also got a future in the sport laid out, with a plan to compete for a spot on the team at Division I William & Mary.
“He’s in the gym six days a week,” Granite State Gymnastics Coach Craig Thibaudeau said. “In the last year and a half, reaching the pinnacle at the top in gymnastics has been something he’s really focused on.”
It’s been a fast climb, and it hasn’t been easy. Antle started formally pursuing gymnastics in 2003 at 7 years old, competing on the Granite State team under Thibaudeau’s coaching. He stayed with it through elementary and middle schools, even though he struggled more in the gym than he did on the football field or basketball court, where he acknowledged playing running back and point guard, respectively, came naturally.
“On all accounts, he had far greater talent in those sports,” Thibaudeau said. “Gymnastics did not come easy to him. Certainly not a natural gymnast.”
Gymnastics is also time-consuming, and late in eighth grade, Antle knew it was going to have to be one or the other. He could stay with the other sports and cut back at Granite State, or go headlong into gymnastics. He went with gymnastics, despite it not being his stronger sport – or rather, because of it.
“I had to work so hard to be successful,” he said. “I didn’t not work hard in football or basketball, but I guess it was more apparent in gymnastics because there’s so much struggle that precedes success that when success comes, it’s that much sweeter.”
Antle continued to put the hours in throughout high school, even getting an exemption from Derryfield’s two-sport requirement so that he could focus on gymnastics. He settled on pommel horse as his staple event, and the talent that was there in the other sports began to translate, prompting a January 2013 discussion between the athlete and the coach.
Antle had constantly talked about his dream of making it to the national championships, and Thibaudeau knew it was time to turn the dream into an objective.
“He and I chatted and I said ‘We’re making this a goal. We’re going to put everything we have into this goal,’ ” Thibaudeau said. “Once we set that goal last year, I saw a switch in him where he got this inner passion and fire and just hit the ground running.”
Antle accomplished the goal on his first try, performing well enough at the regional championships to qualify for the nationals in Oregon last April. The routine was rough, but getting there was the accomplishment, and Antle came away encouraged by what he saw.
“We came back to the gym and said, ‘You know, we’re good enough to be competitive at nationals,’ ” Antle said. “So we set our goal to qualify for all-around finals.”
An eighth-place finish in the regionals took him back to the nationals. This time, he went into the competition with new expectations, as well as a newfound confidence.
“This year when I went … there were all these people doing great gymnastics, and I was one of them,” he said. “And I was very aware that I belonged there and I had earned my spot and I was going to be competitive.”
Expecting to be competitive, Antle chased first place, nailing his pommel routine the first day and doing well enough the second day to come in second place overall among 18-year-olds, and also qualify for the all-around standings, where he finished 20th.
“I don’t really like to compare moments, because they’re all different moments in a long story,” Antle said. “But that was one of the most powerful moments in a long story that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The story isn’t over. Thibaudeau and Antle had a second discussion in between national championship appearances about his future, and whether he wanted to pursue gymnastics down the road. Antle acknowledged much of his love for gymnastics was tied to Granite State, where he competes with Thibaudeau and his close friend, Charlie Lipscomb of Bow, but also knew that he had come too far in the sport to call it a career.
“I decided it would be impossible to give it up after this year,” he said.
With his focus set, Antle and Thibaudeau went to work setting up college opportunities. Antle knew he wanted to go to William & Mary, and the two put together a recruiting video to send to Coach Cliff Gauthier while Antle updated him with his results and spoke with him about a role on the team. He was accepted early decision into the school, and he’ll work out with the team and compete for a spot on the squad for meets in pommel horse and parallel bars.
Thibaudeau said he thinks Gauthier will have a find on his hands.
“He could be NCAA champion on pommel horse. He’s really good, and it’s been hard work and passion,” Thibaudeau said. “He’s probably one of the most athletic kids I’ve worked with. It just took many, many, many years in gymnastics for his athletic talent to catch up to the sport. So now, on pommel horse and parallel bars, he has a chance as a college gymnast to be at the top, I would say.”
That would be impressive, but Antle said he focuses more on process than results, and the process is one he hasn’t regretted embarking on four years ago.
“Gymnastics is a sport where it’s about being good enough for myself,” he said. “It’s not about being perfect, or even being good. It’s about being good enough for myself and making me proud and the people I care about proud. Gymnastics is an awesome way for me to do all of that.”
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dbonifant.)