By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - If one were to travel north beyond the United State's border they would not only find a country rife with beautiful landscapes of mountains and lakes, a myriad of different languages and maple syrup, but also the hometowns of two Penn State gymnasts.
Sophomore and all-around competitor Sam Zakutney hails from Ottawa, Ontario, while junior and all-around gymnast Wyatt Tyndall calls Saskatoon, Saskatchewan home. Although the two Nittany Lions live 1821 miles (2932 km) and 32 hours apart, they still share the bond of one country, one maple leaf, and one red and white flag.
"Coming here my freshman year I didn't know anybody so when we were recruiting Sam I knew Sam from where I'm from," Tyndall said. "We're pretty far apart but we've seen each other before, been on the same team. We've been at nationals at Elite Canada before so I got to know him a little bit...We always relate back. We always make jokes about maple syrup and things like that and it's fun that way for sure."
While the two teammates and native Canadians bond over their childhood roots, they also find unity through their ability to represent the sport they love in both Penn State Blue and White and Canadian Red and White.
"It is interesting to note that a lot of the other schools have started to look at Canada as a viable option for some prospects," head coach Randy Jepson said. "We were out in front of that a little bit because people wanted a good engineering degree for the most part and be able to do gymnastics...So that is kind of the draw here you can't lose education or gymnastics."
"It brings a little bit to the team and Penn State has always been an international team," Tyndall said. "Randy recruited around the world for a long time now so I think that helped my opportunity here and I think that is a big part of why I am here. I mean I am proud of being Canadian but it is fun learning to live in another country too."
Since the Nittany Lions had off the first weekend of February, Zakutney and Jepson took the opportunity to travel north for Elite Canada. Elite Canada is equivalent to America's Winter Cup, which will host sophomore Stephen Nedoroscik and freshman Brennan Pantazis later this month.
"I've been competing in it since I was 11 years old," Zakutney said of Elite Canada. "But I guess this one is pretty important considering these World Championships are the first ones where you can qualify a team to the Olympics possibly so that is kind of a dream of mine but I am kind of just going to make it a reality some day."
Zakutney returned to the country, city and meet where he first laid the path for his gymnastic pursuits and dreams. As a senior competitor, the future Nittany Lion placed fourth with an all-around 75.134 score. Club Gymnika's Rene Cournoyer topped the podium at 80.800.
"Sam did a nice job at Elite Canada," Jepson said. "He finished fourth all-around and he showed he is right in the thick of it for Team Canada which is great...He has a good chance to represent Canada at the World Championships next fall so this is a part of that process and he showed well for that."
Although Tyndall stayed in State College to rest and maintain his health for the remainder of the season, both Nittany Lions are expected to compete for Canada during the country's national championships in May and throughout training camp in the summer.
"We wanted to save him a little bit and he had the opportunity last year to go as well," Jepson said. "He'll probably go to the Canadian Championships this summer, but you know it's tough to have all the meets in a row and have a good weekend there and be able to come back and really perform."
Beyond the opportunity to compete for Olympic berths and national recognitions, the two gymnasts forged a friendship through the dedication of gymnastics and the pride of a country.
"Getting to know him [Zakutney] a lot more here was cool," Tyndall said. "He had a connection here; I think that helped why he came here and we've come closer for sure obviously."
Their evolved bond not only tightens the threads of the pride, honor and legacy woven throughout the storied histories of their school and country, but it also transcends the meaning of gymnastic and sport.
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