August 16, 2004

Blaine Wilson has a three-word answer to anyone who thought he wouldn't make the 2004 Olympic gymnastics squad: "I got mine."

In his final competition Monday, the 30-year-old Wilson turned in solid performances in the still rings and the parallel bars to help the U.S. win a silver medal in the team finals, its first team medal since the U.S. men won the gold in Los Angeles at the boycotted 1984 Games.

Ever since the men won the team silver at the 2003 World championships last August, Wilson had been convinced that the U.S. was capable of a medal in Athens. When he tore his left biceps off the bone on the still rings during a competition a February, he vowed he'd be back in time to make the team.

"There was never a thought that he wouldn't be back," said his coach, Miles Avery. "He knew this country was good enough to win a medal, and that's why he was so desperate to be on this team."

Wilson, a five-time national all-around champion and three-time Olympian, has a few of the markings of a tough guy -- numerous tattoos and piercings and a wisecracking attitude -- but nothing proves his toughness as much as this silver medal. After he had the torn biceps surgically repaired with a titanium wire, he impatiently waited out a 13-week rehabilitation that would have been four to seven months for ordinary people.

Wilson's first competition back on the rings was at the Olympic Trials in Anaheim, Calif., in late June. Given his truncated rehab, the performance was remarkable -- it brought tears to his mom's eyes -- but it wasn't strong enough to earn him a spot on the team along with Paul and Morgan Hamm, Brett McClure and Jason Gatson. Wilson and Guard Young had to prove themselves worthy at a two-day team selection camp in July.

But Wilson's trials weren't over. During training on Wednesday in Athens, a judge told him that a skill in his high-bar routine would be worth one-tenth of a point less than it had been at the past two world championships. Wilson tried a different move, and paid the price during preliminaries on Saturday when he flew backward off the bar, missed the bar and slammed the back of his head on the mat.

Though he was dizzy and feeling sick -- and later admitted he couldn't remember much that happened immediately before or after the fall -- he regrouped to turn in a terrific floor routine.

On Monday the pain of the prelims had apparently vanished. To Wilson, the silver was just as precious as a gold.

"There have been a lot of great gymnasts who never won an Olympic or World championship medal," he said. "I finally got that done."

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