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Gatson in Second at U.S. Meet

June 21, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE — After undergoing four surgeries, the last a reconstruction of his right knee to repair damage done at the 2001 U.S. gymnastics championships, Jason Gatson has learned to measure time by how long it has been since he went under the knife.

He has also learned not to inflate his hopes, especially for this year's U.S. championships, because he knows one slip can erase years of rehab.

"I had no expectations," he said. "I just wanted to come in and see if I could hit my routines like I've been hitting them in practice.

"It feels great. This is the fourth year since I had my first surgery and I'm glad things finally happened for me."

Enough things happened right for Gatson to win the parallel bars event title and rank second after the all-around preliminaries Friday at U.S. Cellular Arena. Defending U.S. champion Paul Hamm of Milwaukee leads with 57.050 points, ahead of Gatson (56.675) and five-time champion Blaine Wilson, who has 55.775 points despite slipping off the pommel horse and getting a 7.9 for that event.

Guard Young is fourth (55.725), ahead of Hamm's twin brother Morgan (55.475) and Brett McClure (55.400). Raj Bhavsar, who won the vault title with a meet-high 9.90, is seventh with 55.175 points.

The top two men -- calculated by adding 50% of Friday's score to 50% of the score from Sunday's all-around finale -- will win berths on the U.S. team for the world championships, Aug. 16-24 in Anaheim. The other four competitors and an alternate will be determined next month.

After the top two, U.S. gymnastics officials are likely to select athletes who are strong in specific events, the better to produce a high team score.

"I think there's 14 guys that can make the team. It's going to be hard," said Wilson, who blamed his gaffe on not opening his hand wide enough to grasp the pommel. He later rebounded to share the still rings title with Marshall Erwin with scores of 9.825.

"In order to secure a spot, you want to be in the top two. End of story," Wilson added. "You don't want to be 3 through 6 with them getting ready to pick the team. I know I don't want to be there. I'm going to figure something out by Sunday."

Paul Hamm won the pommel horse (9.750) and high bar (9.575). Morgan Hamm won the floor exercise with a 9.675, .100 ahead of Paul.

"This is the first time so many people are contending for the all-around title," Paul Hamm said. "Last year it was just me and Blaine ....I'm happy with my performance today. This was the second year I won pommel horse, and for high bar it was the first time ever. It's a good feeling."

Bhavsar, the 2002 NCAA champion at Ohio State, did a Tsukahara-double pike for his winning vault Friday. The crowd chanted for a perfect 10, but Bhavsar was happy with his 9.90

"We've been talking about it for so long," he said of himself and coaches Miles Avery and Arnold Kvetenadze. "It was, 'Put that vault together and you're there, baby.' ... I loved it. I love competing. I'm getting my groove back, especially after missing last year [because of an injured shoulder]. If I can, I'm going for that top two."

Gatson, who will be 23 next week, is also shooting for the top.

"I made the world team when I was 17, and I didn't realize how big that was until now," said Gatson, who scored a 9.8 to win the parallel bars. "I still have some goals I want to accomplish: I want to make another world team and the Olympic team ....It's been a long road."

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