For every bit of glitter they glue on, for every smile brightened by recently removed braces, every gymnast has a tale of injury or loss.
What should have been a joyous occasion because of American Cup all-around victories by Carly Patterson and Jason Gatson turned somber after Blaine Wilson, the defending event champion and a five-time U.S. champion, tore his left biceps while competing on the still rings Saturday at Madison Square Garden. He will undergo tests today to gauge the damage, but his coach, Miles Avery, says surgery is a certainty.
“He was quite devastated, knowing we don’t have time for injuries like this in terms of what we’re trying to get done as a team,” Avery said. “He is totally committed to this sport, and I know he’s going to do everything he can to come back. Blaine’s a tough kid.”
Wilson, trying for this third Olympic appearance at 29, can take heart in knowing Bart Conner suffered a similar injury in 1983 and returned in time to make the 1984 Olympic team. The Athens team will be chosen by mid-July, based on results of the U.S. championships, Olympic trials and selection camps. If Wilson isn’t able to compete in those events, he can petition to be included on the Athens team.
“Hopefully his history of being as good as he is will help,” Avery said.
Gatson, who is from Upland and trains in Colorado Springs, knows how tough the rehabilitation road can be. He has had four knee operations, and he felt Wilson’s pain.
“The timing is so unfortunate,” Gatson said. “He’s one of the leaders of our team and we’re going to support him 100% the whole way. He’s like a brother. If he’s not on the team in Athens, it will be hard on all of us.”
Gatson won his first American Cup title almost by backing in. World all-around champion Paul Hamm of Waukesha, Wis., needed only a 9.45 on his high bar finale to win Saturday but fell on a release move and got a 9.025. That gave the victory to Gatson, with 56.775 points, followed by Marian Dragulescu of Romania, with 56.700 points, and Hamm, with 56.450 points.
“It was OK,” said Gatson, who began with an 8.95 on the pommel horse but rebounded to earn the top scores on rings (9.675) and parallel bars (9.775) and tie Suzuki Ryota of Japan on high bar (9.650). “There’s some things I can do better.... I still have some areas I can improve, but it was a good time tonight.”
It was a fine night for Patterson, Courtney McCool and Chellsie Memmel, who delighted the crowd of 12,394 by completing a U.S. medal sweep.
Patterson, competing in her first major meet since she had surgery on her left elbow in September, compiled 38.949 points and was the high scorer on each apparatus, including a 9.85 on the balance beam and 9.837 on floor exercise. McCool, who will be 16 in April, had 38.299 points, just ahead of Memmel’s 38.074.
The fourth U.S. entry, Terin Humphrey, fell off the beam and was fifth.
Patterson, who was 16 three weeks ago and had her braces taken off two weeks ago, ended her sassy floor routine by nailing a pike-double somersault.
“I was pretty nervous, but I just try not to show it,” she said, after winning her second successive American Cup title. “This meant a lot for me, because a lot of great people have won it here before.... I really like competing in bigger meets more than smaller. The crowd just gives me adrenaline, and I like performing for people.”
The better to perform well in Athens. “She is considered one of the top athletes in the whole world, and at the world championships she won a silver medal [in the all-around] with a major elbow problem,” said Martha Karolyi, the women’s national team coordinator. “If she works hard, she will have all the chances for success.”