Friday, Aug. 22 at 1 p.m. ET

Olympics: U.S. Gymnast Justin Spring

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Justin Spring
Member of the 2008 U.S. Men's Olympic Gymnastics Team
Friday, August 22, 2008; 1:00 PM

U.S. Gymnast Justin Spring takes your questions about competing in his first Olympics, what it was like to be an athlete in Bejing, and how it felt to help the team earn a bronze medal.

Spring was online Friday, Aug. 22 at 1 p.m. ET.

A transcript follows.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Did you stay in the Olympic village? If so, what was it like? Do you get to intermingle with athletes from around the world, and if so, what do discuss the games with each other or what do you all talk about?

Justin Spring: We stayed in the village. We spoke with a bunch of other athletes from different countries. Most other athletes speak english, and we usually talked about the differences between our individual sports and what we thought about the village and the games.

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Washington, D.C.: At what age did you start training as a gymnast? Do you start to train for all the different events at the same age?

Justin Spring: I started training when I was 3 years old. When you're that young you do a little bit of everything... but very basic stuff.

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Miami, Fla.: I know cars are a passion of yours, I'm wondering what things have you added to your X-terra?

Justin Spring: I put in all new neoprene seat covers in and an in-dash DVD player. I put in a small sub in the back as well. I replaced the headlight housing with crystal clear ones and upgraded the fog lights. I think I'm going to get a new car soon though.

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Baltimore, Md.: Congrats on the bronze! I was at the trials in Philly -- you all seemed to be so passionate for the sport and you were gracious to fans. I bawled like a baby during the Olympic team finals, I was so proud of you boys! ... Anyway, my question: Do you think the USA men's team's great showing in Beijing will spur interest in club and collegiate gymnastics? Could this keep some men's college programs from folding?

Justin Spring: I HOPE SO! Men's gymnastics is a dying sport. We all actualy talked about how that was one of the factors that made us nervous. We're not just competing for our country and for our team... in a way you're representing the sport in America and if we had a bad showing it could hurt what little following we have left. If even one kid signs up for gymnastics classes because he watched the olympics then we did good!

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Washington, D.C.: If you wanted to get more American kids to do gymnastics, and to compete in these events, how would you go about encouraging them to do so? And if we did encourage more competition, should we recruit more Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and other ethnic group members to enter the competitions?

Justin Spring: Gymnastics is such a tough sport it's hard to get anyone to stay in it if they don't want to. If we could make it more popular in the media I think more kids would join. It is such a great sport though because of what qualities it teaches the athletes. I think anyone from any race or ethnic background should be encouraged to try gymnastics. It's a fantastic sport to help develop coordination and athleticism.

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Helena, Mont.: Are you continuing in the next quadrennium?

In the lead up to the Olympic Trials you had been injured and not able to put in many repetitions to get ready, yet you had a strong performance. Does this lead you to any changes in how you would normally train? Less of the type of training involving pounding on hard surfaces?

Justin Spring: I will be training for sure until 2012. With how hard this sport is getting the number of repetitions has gone significantly anyway. I did a little less than I would have though had I been perfectly healthy.

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Alexandria, Va.: What surprised you the most about competing in the Olympics?

Justin Spring: How intense the pressure was. I'm am usually not that nervous before a meet but this one got to me a little.

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Lancaster, Pa.: Did your team ever jump in the river to celebrate earning the bronze medal?

Justin Spring: We were told we were not allowed by our Olympic team coordinator and coach... which was OK with us because that thing was pretty gross. Otherwise we would have done it.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Justin, What was your favorite moment outside of competition? And did you and the other U.S. gymnasts hang out much?

Justin Spring: We are all very good friends on the team. We did almost everything together. One of my favorite things we did was when we went to the silk street market and bartered with the people there. We had an awesome time doing that as a team and we got some really cool stuff.

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Washington, D.C.: What was the pressure like compared to competing in a NCAA or Nationals tournament? 5x? 10x?

And what was it like to walk into the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies?

Justin Spring: I would say 30X. The format is much more strict because there is no room for error. Also if you mess up you let your team and country down and NO ONE wants to do that.

We were not allowed to go to opening ceremonies because we competed the next morning :(

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Arlington, Va.: Were your parents or anyone else from your family able to attend?

Justin Spring: My mom, dad, sister and girlfriend all came to watch.

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Washington, D.C.: How did the fact that Paul Hamm wasn't able to compete affect the team's confidence or attitude?

Justin Spring: No. We all knew that Paul at his best was irreplaceable but we didn't let the loss of him hurt our confidence. If anything it made us more determined to prove ourselves.

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Bethesda, Md.: How much interaction did you have with the competition? And was it all in the spirit of international goodwill and all of that, or would it be kind of tense to bump into a competitor in the hall?

Justin Spring: Gymnastics is a very small sport and we see other at competitions throughout the year. For the most part all the gymnast say hello and are very friendly to each other.

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Washington, DC: The gymnastics scoring seemed really complicated, especially in case of tie breakers. Do the gymnasts and coaches even understand it?

Justin Spring: Sometime we don't. We understand how it is done... but sometimes we don't understand how a judge comes up with a specific score for some routines.

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Abilene, Tex.: Do you think the scoring was fair the entire competition?

Justin Spring: I think the scoring is more difficult than ever to tell whether it is fair or not. For the most part I think it was.

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San Francisco, California: Hi Justin, congratulations on a wonderful Olympics. Your team was sensational. Do you know if America has ever had a team like yours, with all of you new to Olympic competition? Aren't there almost always veterans on a team? Thanks again for your great performance.

Justin Spring: We were all Olympic Rookies. I think we were the first team ever to not have one returning olympic team member... and we pulled off a medal! :)

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Woburn, Mass.: Since the issue of the age of gymnasts is darkening your sport, have you heard of any efforts to develop an age test, similar to drug tests? I not sure that is possible, but it sure would either eliminate a lot of cheaters, or clear a lot of young girls who have been unjustifiably accused.

Justin Spring: I think that would be great if they could do something like that. Maybe in the future...

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Washington, D.C.: Where will you keep your Olympic Medal?

Justin Spring: Some place hidden.

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Rockville, Md.: Congrats on the medal! What do you think about the allegations of kids learning gymnastics by former greats like Dominique Moceanu and Alexandra Marinescu (of Romania)-- alleging that training methods are unsafe and abusive to kids? Is this unique to women's gymnastics or have you seen similar things in men's gymnastics?

Justin Spring: I think that any coach can traing an athlete unsafe. It just depends on the person. I think you notice it more in girls because girls peak so young. A 14 year old girl is not as likely to stand up to their coach as a 24 year old girl.

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Washington, DC: As an athlete, do you get time to sight see in Beijing? What was your favorite experience from the Olympic Village?

Justin Spring: Yes we got to see a bunch of stuff after the team competition was over. The USA flag raising ceremony was pretty cool.

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Anonymous: We know everyone marvels at Phelps and his accomplishments but who/what are other US athletes talking about? Hot hating on Phelps, but what other stories are there? Who/what is under the radar?

Justin Spring: Gymnastics is fortunate that is so popular during the Olympics. I think there are so many stories that are just as amazing that happen in other less publicized sports that we never hear about. There is so many sports in the olympics it's hard to keep track of all of them in a 3 week period. NBC has really stepped up coverage though.

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Washington, D.C.: What is next for you? Do you think you will continue in gymnastics, and if so, for how long?

Justin Spring: I will continue to train at least until 2012. If Chicago get's the summer games in 2016 it's going to be hard to stay away from that too.

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Knoxville, Ill.: Justin, I had the privilege of meeting you last December in Champaign, Ill., at your gymnastics invitational. You were very polite and very interactive with the kids, which was refreshing to see. You spoke openly about the slim shot you thought you had at this years Games and that you planned to continue until 2012. Did your chance to make the team still seem slim to you at Trials? Do you still plan to train until 2012? How, if at all, will your training be effected and future goals be set based on the experience you gained this year in Beijing?

Justin Spring: At trials in Philly I was told that I was not in any of the possible Olympic Team scenarios due to the fact that I missed high bar one day at USA championships and had not done floor. I knew what I needed to do and it worked out! My future training will be a lot more slower paced. I don't need to rush anything and 2012 is the ultimate goal.

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Washington, DC: Does the US offer a salary to our Olympic athletes? Is a bonus provided to those athletes who earn medals? And who pays the coaches?

Just curious, so please excuse the money questions!

Justin Spring: Athlete salary is dependent on the National Governing body: USA Gymnastics in our case. Coaches are paid a little by them as well as long as the athlete is on National Team. If the athlete fails to make national team his funding is also taken away. The US olympic committee has bonuses for those that medal at the olympic games called "Operation Gold."

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Woburn, Mass.: How tall/large can a man be and still perform at reasonably high levels? My family, and all my close friends bottom out at very broad shouldered 5-9, and all of the next generation is looking to be 6 foot or taller. All the females are 5-5 or taller as well. Is part of the U.S.'s problem simply that the large majority of its population is simply too large for the sport?

Justin Spring: There are some gymnasts at the games that are close to 6 foot tall. Most are shorter though. The problem in the US isn't that we are too tall. Our national team is a team of volunteers if you want to look at it that way. In other countries gymnastics is a carreer. The only thing that the Chinese gymanasts do is train. I think that if US gymnasts had funding and could just train we would be a lot better.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Can you briefly describe a training day....stretching, weights, routines, etc. How long are training sessions on average?

Justin Spring: I usually only work out for about 3 - 3.5 hours a day. Usually warm up and do maintenance rehab for parts of my body for the first hour work on the equipment for about 2 hours and then do strength in the gym for 30 to 45 min. No weights usually.

Thanks everybody for stopping in! I'm outta here.

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