St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Comeback pair is solid in trials

Associated Press
Published June 26, 2004

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Blaine Wilson and Jason Gatson are rounding into good health. That's good news for American gymnastics, but bad news for a handful of talented men who thought they had a chance to take spots at the Olympics.

Wilson and Gatson, two of the best male gymnasts in the country, showed every sign they'll be ready for Athens in seven weeks, nailing routines late Thursday in the first round of U.S. Olympic trials and showing members of the men's selection committee what they wanted to see.

"I thought the boys looked great. I was really impressed," USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi said.

Wilson was solid in his first competition since tearing his biceps in February. Gatson was equally impressive after a back injury kept him out of the national championships this month.

There were questions as to when the six-man Olympic team would be chosen. It could happen today after the finals or next month at training camp in Colorado Springs. Much of the answer hinged on how Wilson and Gatson performed.

After the first night of trials, it appears the team can be picked soon, which would give the men an extra month to train.

"I think that would make the athletes on the team a little bit more relaxed," said reigning world and national champion Paul Hamm, who all but sewed up his spot with a first-place showing Thursday.

Hamm, Wilson, Gatson, Brett McClure and Hamm's twin brother, Morgan, look like favorites to fill five of the spots. The sixth will go to a specialist, and there are lots of possibilities: 2000 Olympians Stephen McCain and Sean Townsend were third and fourth in the overall rankings Thursday; Raj Bhavsar has one of the country's best rings routines, although he was shaky in preliminaries; and up-and-comer Todd Thornton was among the top four for most of the night before finishing sixth.

After the finals scores will be combined with those from nationals, and the top two finishers earn automatic spots on the team. The next four will be chosen by the committee, which will look to balance the team with specialists for each event.

At Olympic finals, three men compete in each event, and all three scores count. There is no margin for error, so those final four spots won't necessarily go to the top four finishers in the all-around at trials. Surely there's a spot for Wilson if he's healthy.

The five-time national champion (1996-2000) showed he was back on the first routine of the night, the still rings. They used to be his best event, but he has had to water them down because of the injury. Fighting through the pain, he scored a 9.45 - especially impressive considering it was the first time he'd done an entire rings routine without a spotter since he was hurt in February.

"I wasn't worried about that event at all," he said.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.