Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Blaine Wilson makes recovery as promised


When Blaine Wilson dropped off the still rings in February, grabbing his torn left biceps, everybody thought his chances for the Athens Olympics were finished.

He made good on the vow he made in February on Thursday night, earning one of the final two spots on the US men's gymnastics team. When the men's gymnastics competition begins in Athens next month, Wilson will be there -- less than six months after his injury.

"I knew right away that I'd be back," he said. "Athens was never out of my mind. It was never a question whether I'd be back. I just needed a little time to get everything together."

Guard Young also won a spot after a two-day selection meet in Colorado Springs, Colorado, completing the team that already included current world and national champion Paul Hamm and twin brother Morgan, Brett McClure and Jason Gatson. The Hamms, McClure and Gatson were chosen at the Olympic trials last month.

Raj Bhavsar and 2000 Olympian Stephen McCain were selected as alternates. Sean Townsend, a former national champion, 2000 Olympian and the world champion on parallel bars in 2001, didn't make the team.

The entire women's team will be chosen Sunday.

"I came in here with Raj Bhavsar. Basically, the way I see it, I took his spot," Wilson said of his teammate in the Ohio State gym. "That's kind of difficult to deal with."

Wilson, who turns 30 on Aug. 3, has been the country's pre-eminent gymnast for a decade, winning five straight national titles from 1996-2000 and competing at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He has never won an Olympic medal, though, a gaping hole that's kept him competing long after his peers retired.

He won his first world championships medal last summer when he helped the US men take the silver, and figured to be part of the squad for Athens, where the Americans will be favored to win their first team medal since 1984.

Then came the American Cup on Feb. 28. Wilson was competing on still rings, his best event, when he suddenly dropped to the mat, clutching his left arm. His biceps had torn completely off the bone, a devastating injury that normally has a recovery time of 6-to-7 months.

With the start of the Athens Games less than six months away, most assumed Wilson was done.

"Knowing Blaine Wilson, you can't doubt him," said his coach, Miles Avery. "His heart is tremendous for what he wants to do, and what he wanted to do was be a three-time Olympian. He just wasn't going to let anything stop him."

After surgery March 2, Wilson immediately began rehabbing, riding a stationary bike and doing exercises to maintain his core strength. He was back in the gym soon after, and four months after the injury, competed at the Olympic trials.

Wilson wasn't at full strength, not scoring anything above a 9.525. On rings, where the Americans will need him, the best he could manage was a 9.450.

Rather than naming the full team at trials, the five-man selection committee asked seven gymnasts to come to this week's camp and compete for the remaining two spots.

And the US will need Wilson to be at his best if it hopes to win its first team medal since 1984.

Unlike past Olympics, the scoring format will change from preliminaries to finals. In prelims, countries will compete five gymnasts on every event and count the four highest scores. But in the team finals, only three gymnasts will compete on each event with all three scores counting.

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