Related topics

US Men Gymnasts Move to Team Finals

September 17, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ It’s not often that Blaine Wilson leaves the floor a happy guy. There’s always some flip, some hold, some swing he could have done better.

This, though, was unparalleled grumpiness. He threw tape. He spit his gum at a wall. Asked to describe his day, the best he could come up with was an expletive.

``It was just a (bad) meet for me. (Bad),″ he said. ``Nothing more needs to be said.″

In a rare lapse, the five-time national champion blew two of his routines and was only fair in a third during the men’s team preliminaries.

But here’s the kicker: It didn’t matter. The Americans still finished fourth and advanced to Monday’s finals. Russia, the defending gold medalist, was first, China was second and Ukraine was third.

If Wilson gets back on track, the Americans could have the Olympic medal they crave hanging around their necks before the night is over.

``I’ll come back out here and make sure I don’t make the same dumb mistakes,″ Wilson promised.

Scores from the preliminaries are thrown out for the finals, with the six teams starting from scratch. That means it’s like the movie ``Groundhog Day″ for Wilson _ but unlike Bill Murray, Wilson isn’t going to need a bunch of chances to get things right.

``I have faith that he’s going to perform better,″ said Paul Hamm, who helped pick up the slack for Wilson. ``I know Blaine, and I know he gets (mad) when he does bad. I’m not worried about him.″

The United States hasn’t won a team medal since 1984, when most of the Eastern bloc boycotted the Olympics. It hasn’t won a team medal at a non-boycotted games since 1932, when gymnastics was held outside and resembled a track and field event.

But the Americans are close now, finishing only 0.448 points behind Ukraine in the prelims.

Throw out the 9.025 Wilson took on the floor and the 9.312 he got on the parallel bars and replace them with something in his normal 9.6 to 9.95 range, and the Americans are golden.

Well, probably more like bronze, but a medal is a medal at this point.

``That’s the beauty of it,″ team captain John Roethlisberger said. ``We’ve got a lot of improvements we can make.″

With Wilson faltering, the United States got clutch performances from Roethlisberger and the 17-year-old twins, Paul and Morgan Hamm.

Roethlisberger gave his teammates a huge boost when they were flailing away early, gutting out a crisp pommel horse routine only minutes after he dislocated his finger and had a trainer pop it back into place.

Paul Hamm performed more like a seasoned veteran than a high school senior, finishing sixth out of 97 gymnasts and making the all-around finals. When his feet hit the mat on his vault, he showed the audience just what it means to ``stick″ a landing.

Morgan Hamm filled in for Roethlisberger on the parallel bars and came up with a 9.475, a perfectly respectable score. He also made the event finals in the floor exercise.

But the Americans are going to need more than that to get close to the Russians and the Chinese.

They’re going to need Wilson.

The Russians are led by Alexei Nemov, who looks even better than he did in 1996, when he was the silver medalist in the all-around. And the Chinese are so loose they’re trading high-fives like training tips.

If the Americans are going to win a medal, Wilson has to get it in gear.

``When he competes against me, that guy is so nasty, so mean. He’s kicked my butt for years,″ Roethlisberger said. ``I told him, `Blaine, pretend like you’re competing against me at championships. You refuse to let me win.‴

Update hourly