Spring Displays a Style of His Own

Justin Spring
"I'm always going to be one of the guys who goes for it," Justin Spring said. "You have to take risks to be great. This whole sport is about taking risks." (Eric Risberg - AP)
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 17, 2007

SAN JOSE -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Within just a few hours Wednesday night, Justin Spring demonstrated the duality that has shaped his career. The 23-year-old from Burke treated the crowd at HP Pavilion to flashes of brilliance in almost every exercise, only to see his scores reduced by costly falls and mistakes.

By the time the men's preliminary round at the USA Gymnastics national championships ended, Spring had placed in the top five in two events. He also had cemented his reputation as one of the world's most thrilling gymnasts to watch. He either failed or succeeded spectacularly, refusing to settle for the mediocrity in between. Spring will start the men's finals Friday in good position to win the high bar and the floor exercise. David Durante and Alexander Artemev are tied for first place in the men's overall standings.

"I'm always going to be one of the guys who goes for it," Spring said earlier this week. "You have to take risks to be great. This whole sport is about taking risks."

As is his habit, Spring tried many more difficult skills than any of the other 45 athletes competing. Still, he rarely looked pleased with his results. He over-rotated on a triple-twisting back flip off the high bar and fell forward onto his knees. He flipped while rotating three times in the air off the vault, only to stumble sideways on the landing.

By the time Spring lifted himself onto the parallel bars, his eyes had set into a distant glare. He slipped off the bars and took a 30-second break to put chalk on his hands. Then he pulled himself up, lost his balance and fell again. When he finally managed to finish his routine -- which had a higher difficulty value than any other parallel bar routine Wednesday -- Spring pumped his fist in mock celebration.

Spring said this week that he's not concerned about falling because his gambling tendencies will be rewarded by the sport's new scoring system. In 2006, gymnastics replaced its 10.0 scale with a new method that incorporates a separate score for each routine's difficulty. The system favors specialists who excel in only one or two events. It also awards risk-takers.

"The code change has completely separated athletes," Spring said. "Now you have the real athletes, the go-for-it guys really rising to the top. I didn't need to change my routine too much. My style works."

Spring has fully embraced his image this week as the edgy, hit-or-miss wild child of men's gymnastics. He spikes his long blond hair so that it forms a peak four inches above his head, and he reacts with more emotion than his peers. After a solid floor routine Wednesday, Spring raised his hands and then pumped his fists.

"I can get into it a little bit," he said.

Flip Flop for Jackson

Zeke Jackson tried the first-ever triple back flip on the floor exercise, and he almost landed on his head. For the landmark attempt, Jackson sprinted across the floor, somersaulted for momentum and then launched into the air. He tucked his knees into his chest and spun 2 1/2 times.

He would have landed on his chest, but he braced himself with his forearms. Then he stood up and waved to the crowd.

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