These were not minor mistakes: Alexander Artemev landed on the floor in three consecutive events. We're not talking mere missteps or wobbles: He flew off the high bar, fell on the first tumble of his floor routine and spun off the pommel horse.
But Artemev, an 18-year-old native of Belarus whose style and flair are considered a future gold medal combination, nonetheless drew breathless commentary from USA Gymnastics President Bob Colarossi, who dismissed his errors at the 2004 U.S. Gymnastics Championships as if they were imperceptible.
To Colarossi, they were simply irrelevant.
"He's one of those athletes who is so pure that . . . when you are judging, after you watch the first skill, you just want to put your pen down and watch," Colarossi said.
Artemev, indeed, managed a soft landing despite all the time he spent in the air: He earned a place at the June 24-27 Olympic trials in Anaheim, Calif., with his eighth-place finish at the conclusion of Friday night's all-around final, which was won as expected by reigning world champion Paul Hamm.
Hamm accrued a leading 115.700 combined points from the two-day event. Brett McClure, a 2001 and '03 world team silver medalist, finished second (114.000) and Paul Hamm's twin brother, Morgan, claimed third place (113.125). The top 14 men from Wednesday's preliminaries and Friday night's final advanced to the trials.
The two highest scorers from these championships and the trials will automatically earn spots on the Olympic team. The last four Olympic team positions and two alternate spots will be determined by a selection committee. It is in that process that Artemev, who came to the United States with his father in 1994, is favored to make his first Olympic team, regardless of the odd fall here, there, or, in a case like Friday, everywhere.
"His lines, his execution and his technique are near perfect, Colarossi said. "When he hits a routine, you look at it and you can't do it better. . . . He's very artistic, beautiful to watch."
Artemev is considered one of USA Gymnastics' prime youth projects. His potential ensures that he has more latitude for mistakes, even egregious ones like Friday's. Colarossi pointed out that Artemev won a bronze medal at a major international test event in Athens. None of those things, however, changed the fact that Artemev wanted to kick himself after his first fall, which happened when he simply lost his grip on the bar.
"I was disappointed," he said. "After a good two first events, I fell apart there. . . . I was kind of angry after [the first fall] but I know the trials mean the most. Hopefully, that's where I will be my best."
By the time he fell again minutes later on the floor routine -- he said he was still thinking about the accident on the high bar -- then dropped off the pommel horse after deciding to throw caution into the wind, Artemev was furious.
He did, though, seem to realize his results weren't fatal to his Olympic dreams.
"A lot of coaches tell me I'm in a great position because I'm the younger guy," he said. "I try to look at it as I got two more Olympic Games in me. If I don't make this one, it's not the end of the world."
Artemev is coached by his father, Vladimir, who was so caught up in the night's competition he couldn't recall whether he talked to his son in Russian or English during the event. Vladimir Artemev competed in gymnastics for the Soviet National Team for 10 years beginning in 1977. Alexander Artemev's mother, Svetlana, was a rhythmic gymnast. Twelve years ago, Alexander Artemev and his father traveled to Denver from Minsk after his father, who is divorced, received a coaching offer at a local gym.
Alexander Artemev, then 8, took up gymnastics two years later. He proved a natural. He possessed his mother's lyricism and his father's tumbling ability. The combination of artistry and athleticism can be hard to find in U.S.-trained gymnasts, USA Gymnastics officials say.
But Artemev's loveliness aside, Friday's competition was more feisty than pretty. Fairfax's Dan Gill, a biology major at Stanford, claimed the 12th spot, earning a trip to the trials (Burke's Justin Spring finished 26th). Todd Thornton, Sean Townsend and Raj Bhavsar rounded out the top six.
"No one is a sure lock," said national team director Ron Galimore. "Paul [Hamm] is going to get one of them and everybody else is going to be pushing to get better."