U.S. Team Shine In Preliminaries

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma
AUGUST 14, 2004

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Another showing like this, and the U.S. men's gymnastics team is going to have some bright, shiny souvenirs to take home from the Olympics.

And no, we're not talking pins.

The Americans threw down a challenge to fellow medal favorites China and Japan on Saturday afternoon, romping through their qualifying session. Their score of 230.419 points was four-tenths higher than Romania, the reigning European champs and winners of the first qualifying session.

China and Japan competed in the final session.

"We're right on track for what we had to do to get a medal,'' Morgan Hamm said.

Oklahoma assistant coach Guard Young performed well in his first Olympics.  Young started things off for the U.S. Team with a 9.637 on parallel bars.  He also posted a 9.700 on the floor exercise, 9.212 on pommel horse, 9.612 on still rings and a 9.450 on vault.   It is expected that Young will perform on three events during the team finals on Monday, the floor exercise, still rings and vault.  His 9.700 on floor on Saturday was good enough to qualify for the individual event finals.  However,  Olympic rules restrict countries from having more than two athletes participate in event finals. Paul and Morgan Hamm will represent the U.S. during event finals.
"This is a dream come true," said Young. "I think my performance today proved that I deserved to be on the team.
"We had some struggles and mistakes, but our team is strong. We fought and achieved our goal to get to the finals. We are very close as a team and very strong."

Guard Young Olympic Central

Russia is third after two sessions despite a shaky showing. Reigning Olympic champion Alexei Nemov only competed on three events -- though his high-flying high bar routine was the hit of the night -- and Anton Golotsutskov obviously dislocated the second finger on his left hand when he crashed on the parallel bars.

The top eight teams advance to Monday night's finals, and being first after qualifying isn't necessarily a good thing. The draw has the top team going first on the first and fifth events, but last on the sixth event. That's the gymnastics equivalent of icing the kicker, a 40-minute wait that's going to be excruciatingly long with an Olympic medal likely on the line.

"(U.S. gymnast) Blaine (Wilson) said he'd prefer not to be the first-place team. He wants China because he wants the Chinese to finish last,'' reigning world champion Paul Hamm said. "But showing the world we're the best team in (qualifying) isn't a bad thing.''

And the top teams are already going to have enough pressure because of a change in scoring format for the finals. Teams compete three gymnasts on each event, and all three scores counting. That means there's no room for error.

If the United States puts on another show like this, though, it could have its first medal since the 1984 squad won gold at the boycotted Los Angeles Games.

"We try not to talk about medals because we have no control over that,'' said Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics. "We only have control over what we do on the floor.''

While scores seemed high throughout the first two sessions, the Americans appeared to be better than they were last summer, when they finished a close second to China at the world championships.

From the time they walked into the Olympic Indoor Hall to loud cheers and family and friends waving U.S. flags, the Americans were rocking and rolling.

They didn't count a score lower than a 9.225, and botched just two of 30 routines. Hamm finished with 58.061 points, best of all the individual gymnasts through two sessions and more than a half-point ahead of Marian Dragulescu of Romania, who is in second.

Morgan Hamm, Paul's twin, was almost as good as his brother, scoring 9.7 or better on high bar, pommel horse and floor. But he isn't eligible for the all-around because he only did four events. Five-time national champion Blaine Wilson won't make the all-around, either, after falling off the high bar.

But Wilson responded with one of the guttier performances. Though the crash left him so foggy he needed smelling salts to clear his head, he still competed on floor exercise, the Americans' next event, because he knew the team needed his score. He earned a 9.7, then closed with a 9.625 on rings and a 9.512 on vault.

And this is the guy who wasn't even expected to be in Athens after tearing his left biceps completely off the bone less than six months ago.

"Put it this way, when you want to puke, it's not good,'' Wilson said when asked how he felt. "I still have a giant headache right now, but I'm fine. I'm starving.''

The Americans have made a steady climb since their fifth-place finish at the Sydney Olympics, winning silver medals at the last two world championships. But they'd like to climb one step higher here.

Their determination was evident from their first routine of their first event, the parallel bars. Guard Young was so still as he did a one-handed handstand he could have played one of those statues that was in Friday night's opening ceremony. When he saw his score of 9.637, a grin spread across his face and he told his teammates, "I'll take that.''

Paul Hamm did him one better. Starting in a handstand, he flipped around into another handstand without swaying at all to stop his momentum. The crowd oohed and aahed, and the judges obviously liked it, too, giving him a 9.762, his best score.

He also impressed on the high bar. He does three straight release moves, tossing himself up and over the bar with such ease and certainty he should be in a circus, not a gym.

But the Americans do have areas they can clean up. Pommel horse was a struggle, as always, and they could have been more secure on some of their landings. But that's OK, Young said. It's only the first day.

"If you go out perfect the first day,'' Young said, "you might not look sharp in the finals.''

Russia is third after two sessions despite a shaky showing. Alexei Bondarenko, a two-time medalist at the Sydney Olympics, fell off the pommel horse, and Anton Golotsutskov obviously dislocated the second finger on his left hand when he crashed on the parallel bars. Reigning Olympic champion Alexei Nemov was impressive, but he only competed on three events because of lingering back pain.





Sooner Sports Properties, LLC, is the multimedia rights holder for athletics at the University of Oklahoma.
Sooner Sports Properties is a joint venture of Learfield Communications and Tyler Media, LLC.


Sooner Sports Powered by FOX Sports is a multi-platform network that provides distribution of 1,000+ hours of Sooner sports programming annually on a variety of FOX Sports outlets, including FOX Sports Oklahoma, FOX Sports Southwest, and FOX College Sports.