With the loss of two of their star team members ( the Hamm brothers) due to injuries, the U.S Men’s Olympic Gymnastics team was able to still win the Bronze Medal at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
They seemed to be within reach of the silver but poor performances from Joey Hagerty in Floor Exercise and Kevin Tan in the Pommel failed to produce those results. Raj Bhavsar and Sasha Artemev, who replaced the Hamms, performed extremely well for the team.
China took home the Gold with a score of 286.125 points, Japan took the Silver with a score of 278.875 points and the Americans took the Bronze with 275.850 points.
U.S. men’s gymnasts do themselves proud
The U.S. men’s gymnastics take the bronze medal even without Paul and Morgan Hamm.
August 12, 2008
The post-Paul Hamm era began Tuesday for the U.S. men’s gymnastics team, and the transition from being a seasoned, pressure-tested squad to an eager group still exploring its potential went surprisingly well.
The U.S. men were given little chance of winning a team medal after Hamm, the 2004 Olympic all-around champion, withdrew from these Games because of hand and shoulder injuries. That small chance seemed to vanish after his twin brother, Morgan, withdrew last week because of a sore ankle.
But with first-time Olympians Jonathan Horton and Justin Spring aggressively leading the charge, the U.S. won a bronze medal and delighted the loud American contingent in the jam-packed National Indoor Stadium.
“We’re the USA. We never give up,” Joey Hagerty said.The defending world champion Chinese team, supported with cheers, flags and rhythmic chants, deservedly won the gold medal with 286.125 points. The Japanese team — the defending Olympic champion — was second with 278.875 points, and the Americans third with 275.850.
“Absolutely a great, great day,” said Kevin Mazeika, the U.S. men’s head coach.
The U.S. men didn’t exactly come out of nowhere — they had finished fourth at last year’s world championships, and Horton last year ranked fourth in the all-around competition.
Yet, their effort Tuesday was a revelation. Separately and together they took their potential to another level by performing admirably under duress, ending with a superb pommel horse routine by the wildly inconsistent Alexander Artemev.
“That was a huge performance. Boy did he knock it out of the park,” Mazeika said, a cross-sports reference that could be excused in his giddiness.
“We really needed that pommel horse routine and he hit it big-time.”
They were all nervous, and who wouldn’t be? “It’s not every day you’re put in this position,” said Kevin Tan, who’s from Fremont, Calif.
For them to have channeled those jitters into a confident energy on the floor was a good omen for a program that endured tough times after Athens — including a 13th-place finish at the 2006 world championships — and can now look forward with hope instead of looking wistfully back at the Hamm era.
“After all we went through to get here, we did amazingly well,” assistant coach Miles Avery said. “All we said was, ‘Be consistent. Be consistent.’ They did a tremendous job.”
On the medal stand, lined up side by side, they celebrated their achievement with wide smiles. Tan got his medal first, and an instant after the beribboned prize placed around his neck he pulled it upward for a closer look, almost in disbelief.
“It’s kind of heavy,” he said, “but I’ll wear this for a month.”
Spring, Horton and Hagerty got their medals next. Then Raj Bhavsar, an alternate four years ago and seemingly consigned to the same fate until Paul Hamm withdrew. Finally, Artemev, another alternate who got a place on the team only after Morgan Hamm was hurt but made the most of his opportunity Tuesday.
Bhavsar was the glue. A veteran of the 2001 and 2003 teams that won silver at the world championships, he brought a confidence his teammates drew upon.
“Raj was tremendous,” Avery said. “We kept saying this was a team of nine and we almost needed them all. [Artemev] and Raj really came through.”
The men had little margin for error and didn’t commit many. A 12.775 by Tan on the pommel horse hurt, but that was a hit the team had to take because of the Hamms’ absence. But their other sins were minor, mostly small hops on their dismounts.
Enough errors, certainly, to ensure they wouldn’t win gold. The Chinese men were too good, too precise, their skill levels too advanced to leave anyone else any hope. Their every move was greeted with thunderous applause, every decibel of it merited.
“They did a great job and I have lots of respect for them,” said Tan, whose father was born in China and gave him the name Kai Wen, which appears on Tan’s Olympic documents here.
“They had a lot of pressure on them and they were able to come through. Japan was great, too. It was wonderful just to be part of this competition.”
They weren’t just part of it — each member of the team will take home bronze medals. If that’s a surprise to outsiders, it wasn’t to them. “I’ve been with this team this entire quadrennium,” Tan said. “I know what kind of guys we have.”
Now, so does the world.
Horton won’t hear a “Who?” again. Spring has been sprung on the gymnastics world.
“I think this group, we’ve got a lot of good athletes out there that want to stay with it and do what we can do,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics.
What they did Tuesday wasn’t golden, but it was gutsy and gritty and worth every bit of sweat they put into it and every moment of anxiety that went along with it.
For the U.S. men, the bronze age will be one to enjoy.