Blaine Wilson quivered on the still rings. He took a big hop on his vault landing. There was a small break in his parallel bars routine and another skip on the horizontal bar dismount. This was not a perfect night, certainly not by the standards of a five-time national champion and two-time Olympian.
But a mere four months after tearing his left biceps muscle off the bone during an early-season competition, Wilson reveled in being merely average. He was, at least, back.
Wilson, who pulled out of the U.S. championships in Nashville at the beginning of the month, came to this weekend's U.S. Olympic Trials in gymnastics intending to announce his return more than compete for one of the two Olympic men's team spots that will be awarded here on the basis of raw scores.
Four of the six U.S. men's team openings will be filled at the discretion of the men's national team selection committee by July 18. Wilson, 29, who calls himself the "grandpa" of the men's program, likely will get one provided he can show he has made steady progress and is on course for full health by the time of the Aug. 13-29 Summer Games.
On the in-arena radio broadcast, two-time Olympian John Roethlisberger described Wilson's return as the greatest comeback he has ever seen. Bart Conner returned from a less severe biceps tear before the 1984 Summer Games, but Conner had seven months. Wilson's injury occurred less than a half a year before the Olympics.
Tonight, Wilson resumed his competitive career in the precise place he left it on Feb. 28: on the still rings. At the Visa American Cup, Wilson plunged to the mat in the middle of his routine, clutching his shoulder. Tonight, he performed steadily if not spectacularly on that apparatus, eliciting spontaneous cheers and shouts as he progressed through it. He received a 9.450 out of a possible 10.0.
His scores throughout were not stellar, but they were consistent. On a night Jason Gatson, another Olympic team favorite, also came back strong from a back injury but only competed in four events, Wilson's return attracted the most attention from the crowd of about 6,000 at Arrowhead Pond.
Paul Hamm, the reigning world all-around champion, kept his grip on first place overall despite a rare fall off the pommel horse and a shaky landing on his vault. Brett McClure held on to second place with a crisp performance. Slipping from third to fifth on Thursday night was Morgan Hamm, who lost ground to Sean Townsend and Todd Thornton.
Fairfax's Dan Gill, who attends Stanford, made a huge leap from 12th overall to an apparent sixth as the final results were being tallied late last night, putting himself in position to contend for an Olympic spot. Gill drew huge cheers for his performance on the high bar, for which he earned a 9.775, and his floor exercise, which netted him a 9.675.
In determining the first two Olympic team positions, the preliminaries and finals of the trials will account for 60 percent of each gymnast's score. The results from the U.S. nationals will account for 40 percent. In the cases of Gatson and Wilson, their results here will account for 100 percent of their score.