The 2004 Summer Olympics don't begin for another four weeks, but American gymnast Blaine Wilson has already scripted what may prove one of the more stirring comeback stories of the Games.
Less than five months ago, Wilson was a portrait of anguish and pain as he suddenly fell to the mat during his rings routine at the Visa U.S. Championships in New York. The diagnosis was a torn left biceps, and the sport's insiders believed Wilson's glorious career, which included five national championships, was likely over.
On Thursday, Wilson was rewarded for his tenacious battle back to fitness by being granted one of two final spots on the U.S. men's Olympic gymnastics team. It will mark his third and final Olympics, offering one last chance to win the Olympic medal that has eluded him to date.
"I knew right away that I would be back," said Wilson, who will turn 30 on Aug. 3. "Athens was never out of my mind."
Guard Young, 27, of Norman, Okla., won the other spot.
The selection of Wilson, from Columbus, Ohio, to the team was hardly a gesture of charity. Still recovering from surgery to repair the torn biceps, he failed to secure a spot during the Olympic trials in June. So he was invited, along with six other gymnasts, to compete for the two remaining spots on the six-man squad during the team's final selection camp in Colorado Springs, which began Sunday and concluded yesterday.
The camp consisted of two competitions, partly to give Wilson a chance to demonstrate that he would be fully ready for Athens when the gymnastics competition begins next month.
Afterward, gymnastics officials huddled behind closed doors, taking one hour longer than they initially allotted, to hash out their selection.
The decision was bittersweet for both Wilson and Young -- the fulfillment of a dream on one hand, yet coming at the cost of fellow gymnasts and friends. Named as alternates were Raj Bhavsar and 2000 Olympian Stephen McCain.
"I came in here with Raj Bhavsar," Wilson said, "and basically the way I see it, I took his spot, and that's kind of difficult to deal with."
Still the decision was particularly gratifying for Wilson, who has been the country's most dominant male gymnast for the past decade. For the first time in two decades, the U.S. men are considered to have a chance at winning an Olympic medal.
Wilson predicted as much Thursday during a conference call with reporters. "The guys should be strong, and we look forward to going in and winning a medal," Wilson said.
The squad is led by reigning world champion Paul Hamm. He and Brett McClure of Mill Creek, Wash., locked in their spots on the team based on their first- and second-place point totals following the U.S. nationals and U.S. Olympic trials in Anaheim, Calif., in June.
Two wild-card spots were then given to Morgan Hamm, Paul's twin brother, and Jason Gatson of Colorado Springs.
While Paul Hamm is considered to have the American's best chance of winning an individual medal, Wilson has long been the team's most integral member -- providing its fire, spark and, with two Olympics on his resume, veteran savvy.