Following a string of injuries, the U.S. men's gymnastics team fell just 1.25 points short of a bronze medal at the World Championships last year. With most team members back to full strength, winning Olympic medals is a realistic goal for the Beijing Olympics in August. VOA's Jim Stevenson has this profile of gymnast Justin Spring, who made the team after making a comeback from a knee injury.
U.S. men's gymnastics has been rebuilding since the team's stunning success in 2004, when it won the team silver medal and Paul Hamm won the individual all-around gold medal. Following the Athens Games, most of the team either took time out from competitive gymnastics or retired, making the USA one of only a few countries without a former Olympian on its team at the 2007 World Championships.
But in just three years, the Americans have built a young, talented pool of men who made one of the greatest comebacks in gymnastics. Team USA moved from 13th place in 2006 to a fourth-place finish in the 2007 team competition. Justin Spring, 24, was a part of that comeback. He says the competition has taken note of the U.S. men ahead of the Olympics.
"I think China and Japan are worried," said Justin Spring. "Not scared. We have been weak on high bar the last three years. I have been national champion on high bar twice in the last three years. I definitely can help the team in that event. I was gold medalist at the Pan Am championships on parallel bars. So there is without a doubt no chance that we are not going to be in team finals [top eight teams make it]. And I think that we are going to be on that podium [win a medal]."
Spring has had a chance to train in some of his weaker events while overcoming a knee injury. He says that has given him a better chance to win perhaps the most coveted gymnastics title.
"It is not about the All-Around, sometimes, [but] for the team it still is," he said. "Everyone follows you all around. It is the easiest to follow. It is who the media makes the meets about. You know, I want a piece of that. And I am good enough, why can't I do it? With this knee out, I have had time to train [pommel] horse and rings. So I am going to be ready."
Justin Spring's favorite event is the high bar.
"That is the most fun," he said. "You know, it is crazy - the release moves and the big dismount. The public can watch high bar and say 'That was amazing. That was really cool to watch. I like that. I want to see more of that.' I think it is events like high bar that pull in the crowd."
Spring and his teammates are aware that political issues have threatened to overshadow the Olympics.
"The Olympics is one of the biggest sporting events in the world," said Justin Spring. "How could you not use that to draw a little attention to some of these huge issues going on? And I do not blame them. But in that same respect, I do not think it should distract from the Olympic Games, the athletes and the sports themselves."
The U.S. men's gymnastics team seems to have few distractions as it aims for the medal podium in China.