Augustan goes from gymnast to judge

Fifteen of the nation's top male gymnasts will gather in Philadelphia this weekend for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. Their goal is to impress Augusta resident Jay Thornton.

That's because Thornton has been named the selection committee chair for men's gymnastics at the Olympic Trials. He is part of a five-member committee that will decide who will represent the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing this August.

The 33-year-old Westside High School graduate said it's not an easy job.

"I'm honored to be in this position, but it's not an enviable one," Thornton said. "It's very stressful. I know all these guys have been working their whole lives for this."

Thornton, who was a member of the U.S. Gymnastics senior national team for six years in the 1990s, knows what it feels like to be competing for a spot in the Olympics.

He missed out on one in 1996 when he was the second alternate in Atlanta and again in 2000 when he missed the cut for the Sydney Games.

After retiring from competition in 2000, Thornton started his own business and became an athlete representative.

Thornton has served on several selection committees, including one in 2004 that sent six U.S. male gymnasts to Athens, Greece, where the team earned a silver medal.

Thornton said the committee's criteria for making this year's team won't be the same as when he was vying for a spot.

"It's different from when I competed. When I did it, they took the top six all-around," he said.

"Now you're trying to build a team to win so you want to fill weaknesses on every event. You want the six best who will give you top three finishes in each event."

Thornton and the rest of the committee will evaluate the 15 Olympic hopefuls this weekend.

The committee will name at least two men to the U.S. Olympic team immediately after the meet. The rest of the squad will be announced no later than 24 hours after that.

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.

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