Wilson currently fifth in prelims
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Four months ago, Blaine Wilson lay crumpled in a heap at Madison Square Garden, his dreams of an Olympic medal seemingly as shredded as the muscle in his left arm.
On Thursday night in the Olympic trials, he was once again among the top gymnasts in the country, an emphatic response to all those who said he'd never make it back.
"All I ask is for the opportunity to be on this team," Wilson said after finishing fifth in the preliminary round. "I believe I can make this team. And I believe I can help this team win a medal in Greece."
After what he's overcome the last four months, can anyone doubt him?
Wilson has been the country's pre-eminent gymnast for a decade, winning five straight national titles from 1996-2000 and competing at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic games. But he's never won an Olympic medal, a gaping hole that's kept the 29-year-old competing long after his peers retired.
When he tore his left biceps muscle completely off the bone in February, though, most thought he was finished. The normal recovery time is at least six months; the Athens Games were less than six months away.
But Wilson has a will even greater than his considerable talent, and both were on display Thursday night.
"I have the heart and desire to still be on this team and get this done," he said. "I might have started with a different group of guys, but my goal is the same."
And he and Jason Gatson, who missed the national championships with a back injury, are making things very difficult for the committee that will select the six-man Olympic team.
The top two scorers after the finals Saturday will earn automatic spots to the Olympics, and a selection committee will choose the final four.
Reigning world champion Paul Hamm is a shoo-in for one of the two automatic spots. Though he fell off the pommel horse, he still finished first with 57.600, not scoring anything lower than a 9.0. He wrapped up the night with a 9.9 on high bar, a routine that never fails to draw oohs and aahs from the fans.
"Obviously, I want to win this competition," Hamm said. "But just making the Olympic team and staying healthy is my main goal."
The other automatic spot is as good as gone, too. Brett McClure, the silver medalist at nationals, was the only gymnast in the 17-man field to hit all six of his routines, and his score of 57.425 left him just 0.175 points behind Hamm.
That leaves those other four spots, and committee members came to trials wondering if Wilson and Gatson would be back to full health when the Olympics start in seven weeks.
Now there's no doubt.
"They've shown enough they deserve to be on the team," Hamm said.
Neither were perfect. Wilson nearly skidded out of bounds twice on the floor exercise, while Gatson -- who competed on only four events -- had to gut out his pommel horse routine.
But there were more highlights than lowlights for both. Gatson's parallel bars routine was the best of the night, a powerful set that ended with a big dismount and a near perfect landing. He scored a 9.85 and also had a 9.7 on still rings.
"That parallel bars routine that Jason Gatson does, that wins a medal in Athens," said Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics. "That's one of the best I've ever seen."
The crowd held its collective breath when Wilson climbed up on the still rings, the event where his injury occurred. With his face red from exertion and his jaw clenched in determination, he flipped and twisted his way through the routine.
When he landed safely back on the floor, fans exhaled and his mother, Joan, wept with relief.
"Somebody told me she was crying," Wilson said, a tinge of disgust in his voice. "C'mon, Mom. I'm a lot tougher than that."
As if there was ever any question.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
MORE OLYMPICS HEADLINES
- Durant, USA pull away from Spain to win gold
- Clippers' Paul has successful surgery on thumb
- Schmitt back to school after Olympic stardom
- Olympian Raisman, Poland Spring sign deal