Originally created 06/26/04

Gatson, Wilson keep moving toward Olympics



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 their spots at the Olympics.

Wilson and Gatson, two of the best male gymnasts in the country, showed every sign that they'll be ready for Athens in seven weeks Thursday night, nailing routines in the first round of 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 muscle in February. Gatson was equally impressive after a back injury kept him out of the national championships earlier this month.

Entering the week, there were questions as to exactly when the six-man Olympic team would be chosen: this Saturday after the finals or next month at a 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 this weekend, which would give the men an extra month to train knowing they'll be at the Olympics.

"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 after 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 Saturday's finals, scores will be combined with those from nationals and the top two finishers will earn automatic spots on the team. The next four will be chosen by the committee, which will be looking to balance the team with specialists on each event.

At Olympic finals, three men go on 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 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 the time he got hurt in February.

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

In fact, he made it through all six events without a major hiccup. When it was over, his mother Joan was crying in the stands, and Wilson was walking off the podium with a wry grin and a look of self-satisfaction, having come back from an injury that many felt would end the 29-year-old's career.

"I have the heart and desire to still be on this team and still be a part of it and still get this done," said Wilson, who is seeking a trip to his third Olympics. "I might have started this with a different group of guys, but I still have the same goal."

Unlike Wilson, Gatson only competed on four events. His performance on two of them - rings and parallel bars - might have wrapped up his spot on the team.

The parallel bars routine scored a 9.85, better than any routine the entire night save Paul Hamm's 9.9 on the high bar.

"When I nailed that p-bar routine, I was like, 'All right, it's on,"' Gatson said.

Another night like that, and the selection committee will be hard pressed to keep either of the comeback kids off the team.

"They can do anything they want, that's basically the way it goes," Wilson said. "But I expect to come out here on Saturday and have a better performance than I did today."