Several men's stars nursing serious injuries


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The strangest thing happened when Jason
Gatson finished one of his gymnastics routines last week.

He could walk.

For the first time in weeks, he didn't need ice or a massage
just to be able to move after a hard landing. He didn't have to lie
on the floor until the pain from the fracture in his back subsided.

"I was so happy," Gatson said Wednesday. "I actually did a
landing and I'm like, 'Hey, I can walk. Move onto the next event
without laying there getting it rubbed down and putting an ice bag
on. We're making progress."'

With not a moment to spare, either.

The Olympic trials begin Thursday with the men's competition,
and several of the United States' brightest hopes for Athens are
nursing injuries as well as nervous stomachs.

Gatson will compete in four events, hoping that will be enough
to convince the men's selection committee that he deserves a spot
on the Olympic team. Five-time national champion Blaine Wilson
plans to do all six events a mere four months after tearing his
left biceps muscle completely off the bone.

Hollie Vise, a double gold medalist at last summer's world
championships, is back after back spasms knocked her out of
nationals earlier this month, but only plans to do two of the four
events. And Chellsie Memmel, another double gold medalist at
worlds, had to petition for a spot at next month's selection camp
because a broken bone in her foot still isn't healed.

Hardly the most ideal conditions for trying to make an Olympic

"It's really frustrating," Vise said, "because you don't know
how fast your body can heal and you don't know what you're going to
be able to do."

But with the Olympics less than two months away, they don't have
much of a choice.

"These things take time, that's basically all [the doctors]
said," Gatson said. "But right now, I don't have any time."

Gymnastics is one of the most physically demanding sports, with
athletes putting their bodies through intense pounding and doing
tricks that defy physiology. On the still rings, for example, the
men have only their arms and upper-body strength to support them as
they hang, spin and balance several feet off the floor. On the
balance beam, the women contort themselves in positions Gumby
wouldn't dare try.

Injuries are common, and there's not a gymnast around who
doesn't have something that bothers them. Especially now, when
training is at its most intense.

"It's part of our sport," Gatson said. "We've been doing it
for so long and all the pounding, it takes a toll after a while."

So they do whatever they have to to get by.

Wilson, hoping to make his third Olympic team at the ancient age
of 29, had surgery three days after he was injured, with doctors
using a titanium wire to reattach his tendon. He's been rehabbing
with a vengeance since then, all so he could be here.

"You can't gain anything unless you get out there and give it a
shot," Wilson said. "That's the way I look at it. I feel like I'm
ready. I've done more than I assumed I'd get to do prior to this
trials process, so I'm ready."

Vise has had two cortisone shots since nationals. She still
feels pain in her back when she tumbles, so she'll only do her
balance beam and uneven bars routines here, hoping that will be
enough to earn her a spot at the selection camp.

"If I did make it to the Olympics, I'm most likely not going to
do floor and vault, anyway," Vise said. "So I just need to show
my two events and prove to them I can do them. I think at this
point, they understand."

Gatson is feeling like a pin cushion after six cortisone shots
and two epidurals in just the last three weeks. He hasn't trained
on floor or vault for a month, either, hoping that would speed the

"It's not totally gone, but the extremity of it, it's not as
intense," he said. "I want to be there with those guys on the
floor. Regardless of what happens, I'm going to do everything I can
to get myself there."