ATHENS, Greece (AP)-- Twenty years later, the boys are back on the medal stand.

The American men's gymnastics program, long overlooked and often unappreciated, won Olympic silver Monday, capping a four-year rebuilding project to take home a medal for the first time since the boycotted 1984 Games. 
 
After faltering in the middle two rotations, Paul and Morgan Hamm led a rally. The Americans hit their last six routines, on parallel bars and high bar, to push past Romania and finish with 172.933 points.

The Japanese went last and needed to average about 9.5 over three sets on the high bar to win. They did it with ease, winning by 0.888 points.

The Americans applauded the clutch effort, but they also celebrated their own.

Team ScoresNotes | Quotes

"It doesn't get harder than that. It doesn't get more dramatic than that," USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi said. "To come back out and hit the last six routines like that is unbelievable."

This was only the third team medal for America, and its first at a non-boycotted Olympics since 1932, back when the club toss and rope climb were still part of the sport.

Yes, it has been awhile since the men were this good. They long languished in the shadows of the more successful women's program, to say nothing of so many other Olympic sports.

"A team medal at the Olympics is huge," said Bart Conner, a member of the winning 1984 team. "I know they wanted gold, but this is an enormous accomplishment."

The rebuilding project showed promising signs when the men won silver medals at the world championships in 2001 and 2003. Doing the same in the Olympic finals was anything but easy.

Guard Young Olympic Central

Guard Young and both the Hamms took big steps on their vault landings to cap a bad stretch on rings and vault, dropping the Americans from first to a precarious third.

The parallel bars changed that.

Paul Hamm, Blaine Wilson and Jason Gatson all scored higher than 9.7. Gatson closed the act with a routine that includes a move named after him -- in which he grips the bar with his left hand and swings upside down while turning himself completely around.

He did it perfectly, prompting coaches Kevin Mazeika and Miles Avery to start high-fiving each other. When the score of 9.825 came up, Gatson slapped hands with his teammates and the crowd started yelling "U-S-A, U-S-A," a chant heard all too infrequently over the years with the men on the mat.

Paul Hamm's closing high-bar routine was less than perfect. He did only two straight blind-release moves instead of his usual three after nearly falling off on the second turn. But it was good enough.

With Young on the sideline tallying the results, and Wilson pacing like a boxer, Hamm scored a 9.462. When the number came up and the medal was assured, the team started hugging and congratulating each other, knowing their quest was successful.

Japan did the Americans one better, with one of the most clutch performances in Olympic history.

Needing 28.574 points on the high bar, Isao Yoneda, Takehiro Kashima and Hiroyuki Tomita were nearly perfect. The first two did somersaults backward over the bar and caught it to highlight their routines. Yonida scored a 9.787 and Kashima a 9.825.

By the time Tomita closed, he needed only an 8.9 to clinch. He could have gone conservative but didn't, doing a release move backward over the bar with two somersaults and a full twist.

It was a beauty, good for a 9.85. When he stuck the landing, the Japanese and their big fan contingent celebrated, enjoying the country's first Olympic gymnastics medal since 1992 and first gold since 1976.

"I was slightly worried about our other rivals' points, but I tried not to think about it," Tomita said. "When I finished the high bar, I didn't think about the points. But then I realized we won."

The Romanians, meanwhile, led most of the meet until two busted routines on high bar dropped them to third. Still, it was the country's first Olympic team medal. Like the Americans, the Romanian men can finally shake the feeling of being overshadowed by a superior and more popular women's program.

Nobody in America knew that feeling more intimately than Wilson. The 11-year veteran of the national team suffered through fifth-place finishes in Sydney and Atlanta. But he saw a turnaround coming.

Wilson, 30, rushed back from a severe biceps injury in February, correctly thinking he might finally win a medal.

"It's a lifelong dream," Wilson said. "You've been thinking about it. Wanting it. Sometimes, you want it so bad, it makes you sick."

Gatson shared some of Wilson's pain. The 24-year-old has been one of the country's best gymnasts for the past seven years, but missed lots of time -- including the last Olympics -- due to a pair of devastating injuries.

The Hamm brothers were viewed as the future when they surprisingly made the Olympic team in 2000. The future paid off, and with a more centralized training program and a boost from these games, there could be more.

Young and Brett McClure were role players, gymnasts who've built their reputations for coming through under pressure. While McClure was no surprise to be here, Young bumped some good gymnasts off the roster to make it, a sign that the American program finally has some depth after years of piecing things together.

Young showed he belonged by opening the meet with a 9.7 floor routine -- sticking the landings hard on all three tumbling passes. When it was over, he let out a scream to celebrate, just the first of many happy moments for the Americans.

Young's other scores included a 9.475 on the still rings and a 9.350 on the vault. 

OU All-American Bart Conner was a part of the last team to win a team medal in 1984, also marking the last time a male gymnast represented the Sooners at the Olympics in men's gymnastics.