Sinclair excited to be competing again


Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Melanie Sinclair stuck her final routine of the night, threw her arms in the arm and yelled, "I'm back."

It was a fitting declaration.

Sinclair, one of the most heralded gymnasts ever to come to Florida, made her Gators debut a memorable one by winning the all-around competition during Florida's season-opening win at the Super Six Challenge in Fayetteville, Ark. on Jan. 5.

It was a long time coming. Sinclair, a redshirt freshman, was forced to sit out all of last year with a torn right ACL. The long wait made her return that much sweeter.

"I loved it," Sinclair said. "I love competing. I just love every bit of it. The adrenaline, the excitement of the crowd, your teammates cheering for you. I just love it all."

Sinclair will get to experience that same excitement tonight when the top-ranked Gators host No. 4 Alabama at 7 p.m. inside the O'Connell Center. It will be the first time in program history Florida has competed at home as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.

Sinclair is a big reason why Florida has averaged a national-best 196.700 through two meets.

A 4-foot-11 native of Orlando, Sinclair came to Florida with a long list of accolades. She was a five-time member of the U.S. Senior National Team. Even before reaching the age of 18, Sinclair has competed all across the globe including the 2004 Pan American Championships, the 2005 America Cup, the 2004 World Cup in Belgium and the 2004 DTB Word Cup in Germany, just to name a few.

Gators coach Rhonda Faehn even called Sinclair the most talented athlete she's recruited at Florida.

But misfortune delayed Sinclair's Florida debut a year. While practicing before a meet in Marseilles, France in October, 2005, she landed awkwardly on a vault dismount.

"I heard the pop and it hurt," she said. "I got up and tried to run it off."

But Sinclair had torn her right ACL. She enrolled at UF three months later, but was obviously not in shape to compete during the 2006 season. Instead, she supported her new teammates from the sidelines and rehabilitated her knee.

Sinclair called the time away from gymnastics "the longest months of my life." Yet, she still showed up to Florida's practices and meets with a boundless energy that typifies her personality.

"It was still exciting," she said. "I was yelling and screaming and jumping around even though I wasn't competing."

It is that energy and attitude that has helped energize the Gators this season.

"She's never standing still," Faehn said. "She's always moving, always dancing. She has endless energy."

Sinclair also moves pretty fluently on the gymnastics floor. Sinclair finished first on bars and second on beam at both the Super Six challenge and in last weeks win over Oregon State in the O'Connell Center.

"She's very powerful and fun to watch," said fellow freshman Amanda Castillo, who trained with Sinclair at the Orlando Metro gym. "Her skills are high and she's really clean.

"She's also very modest. Coming from elite gymnastics, that is the most individual sport and Melanie is such a great team player."

Which is why Sinclair understands why her coaches are going to bring her along slowly this season.

Sinclair was limited to just two events last week to help her rest her knee. Faehn expects Sinclair to return to the all-around tonight.

Sinclair says her knee is about 95 percent healthy, and Faehn says she will ease her into the lineup more and more as the season wears on.

"We don't want to push her too much right away," Faehn said. "It's more important to have her at full strength at the end of the season."

As much as Sinclair loves to compete, she understands the importance of patience with her knee.

"I think that will help me a lot," Sinclair said. "Just to keep me strong and keep me healthy. It will help me a lot in the end."

Contact Brandon Zimmerman at 374-5051 or zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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