The way men's gymnastics is going, they may have to supplement the traditional gold, silver and bronze medals with another award--the Purple Heart.
Scott Johnson, a Colorado Springs native, won seven medals in the National Sports Festival competition to match the record he set at Indianapolis in 1982. One of his five golds came in the high bar, where he completed his routine with a stunning triple back somersault.
Johnson received a 9.9 as the leadoff performer Saturday night, which left the judges in a difficult situation when the two men who followed him, Brian Meeker and Gerald Martin, turned in remarkable routines as well. Loud boos came from the sellout crowd of 7,000 when their scores were slightly lower.
Then Dan Hayden, 18, performed an original routine already named for him, in which he executed two flips with a recatch. While the crowd roared, the judges succumbed and a 10 flashed among the scores. Although Hayden's 9.9 mark, added to his lower preliminary figure, was good only for silver, the youngster left everyone with a memory of something special.
"I loved it," Johnson said. "That was one death- defying move. I saw it done by a Russian on TV once, but when I saw Dan do it for the first time at the Nationals, I was shocked. There is so much skill involved and yet he does it with ease. It shows what kind of a gymnast he is."
Johnson, who led Nebraska to the NCAA championship, added that there was no way he was going to try to execute a "Hayden."
"I've never attempted that and I never will," Johnson said. "But I have some pretty good ones myself--a double layout in the floor exercise and a double twisting double back on the rings.
"Gymnastics in the world today keeps increasing in difficulty. The Chinese and Russians are doing tricks you wouldn't believe could be done. It increases each year and it's something we have to keep up with. We have to be continually looking to new things."
On his triple back somersault, Johnson looked more like Greg Louganis than Kurt Thomas. He said that he had been a diver as a high school sophomore here, "until I bashed my head on the board and I decided to stick with gymnastics."
That career has hardly been free of injury. Johnson recalled that he has suffered "a serious shoulder injury that I was able to rehabilitate, although surgery had been suggested; a torn ankle that was in a cast for four weeks; a broken heel that was in a cast for six weeks, and serious muscle spasms in my lower back."
Meeker, from the University of Minnesota, won six medals here and, although his only gold came as a member of the North in the team competition, he said it was the one he wanted most.
"We were really injured--two guys were in for X-rays and could hardly walk--so everything had to be just right for us to win," Meeker said. "Lee White had a stress fracture in his back and had to withdraw after two rotations, so after that every routine counted--we no longer could drop our lowest score. If we had missed one routine, we would have been dead.
"Dan Hayden was remarkable. He bruised his heel on the horizontal (high) bar in the junior nationals and couldn't train hard because of it."
Viewers of Wide World of Sports will recognize Meeker as the gymnast who crashes chest first into the horse in the vault at the 1981 Sports Festival, a mishap that has been used to characterize the agony of defeat.
"I had won the all-around and I was in the vault final and I impaled myself," Meeker said. "My body lifted a 300-pound horse up three feet. I got a stress fracture of the sternum and was out four months. It still bothers me.
"Gymnastics difficulty is increasing at an alarming rate. It makes it a challenge. I want to see if I'm tough enough to do it."
Hayden is proving his toughness, after a back injury forced him to abandon the sport for 18 months.
"I had to have the first vertebra fixed," Hayden said. "It was no particular incident, but just the trauma built up through the years."
Asked if his high bar routine was scary, Hayden hesitated only a moment and said, "Yeah, it is. The tap is really critical. If I tap too far up, I'll go into the bar too close and I don't like to think of what might happen."
Hayden and his twin brother Dennis have sacrificed more than their bodies to gymnastics. They left their home in Buffalo at age 14 to train in Tucson, Ariz., under Coach Yoichi Tomita. After living with an Arizona family for 11/2 years, much in the manner of junior hockey players, they now have their own apartment.
"That's what it takes to be good," Dan Hayden said. "I never would have progressed if I'd stayed at home."
The vault winner, with his best lifetime score of 9.8, was Mark Caso of UCLA, who suffered a broken neck in 1980 and battled back to win the gold medal on rings in the 1981 Festival at his hometown of Syracuse.
"I'm really pleased to do so well, because this will be my last Festival," Caso said. "I'm quitting after the Olympics. The sport's too much on my head. I've had a lot of psychological problems, caused by that broken neck."
There are still some people who consider male gymnasts to be sissies. One can only hope they take the time to watch a few current tricks like the "Hayden" on upcoming telecasts. They will probably come away wondering why the guys don't wear crash helmets.