Spring-ing into Beijing Olympics



By Meghan Montemurro

The announcement from the USA Gymnastics committee came as if the 13 athletes were competitors on a reality television show.

Huddled together and anxiously anticipating the selection committee’s decision, the gymnasts were awaiting their fate when they were thrown a curveball. The athletes were notified that deliberations would continue for another two hours.

Despite the high tensions and incessant pacing, the long wait was worth it in the end for Justin Spring when he was told he had made the 2008 U.S. Olympic Men’s Gymnastics Team.

“It’s unbelievable,” Spring said. “I may have counted myself out a few times, other people did as well, but I made it through it all. It’s still unbelievable. I was just in shock.”

On Sunday, Spring was named one of six gymnasts that will head to Beijing in August for the Olympics. Paul Hamm, Jonathon Horton, Morgan Hamm, Kevin Tan and Joe Hagerty were also selected to represent the U.S. Raj Bhavsar, Sasha Artemev and David Durante were named alternates by USA Gymnastics.

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The former Illini and current Illinois men’s gymnastics assistant coach became the first University Olympian since gymnast Dominick Minicucci in 1992.

As the committee went alphabetically, gymnast by gymnast, Spring’s confidence in making the team faltered when he heard fellow U.S. Olympic Men’s Gymnastics team member Hagerty’s name. Spring believed one of the spots would come down to Hagerty and himself.

“‘H’ comes before ‘S,’ so when I heard his name called, I wasn’t sure since we have similar strengths,” Spring said Sunday. “My heart dropped, and I was bracing myself.”

Spring’s performance at the Olympic Trials elevated his bubble status, and he said he had “jumped back in the mix.” The Olympic team was selected by taking the four days of combined scores from the Visa Championships and Olympic Trials.

Spring was first on the parallel bars, second on the vault, third on high bar and seventh on rings with the combined scores. Although Spring did not compete on floor at the Visa Championships, he would have placed third after scoring a 15.200 average in his two performances at the Olympic Trials.

“I feel like I definitely helped myself after these two days of competition … I didn’t know how much,” Spring said of his Olympic Trials’ performance. “This was a really hard year to make the team.”

Spring has been rehabilitating and recovering from an ACL tear in his left knee suffered at the 2007 Visa Championships last August. He has also been nursing back problems and an ankle sprain that threatened his ability to perform on floor.

Before leaving for the Olympic Trials, Spring and Illinois associate head coach and Spring’s personal coach Jon Valdez tentatively planned for the Burke, Va., native to not compete in the event.

When the ultimate decision needed to be made, however, it was all or nothing.

“Jon (Valdez), my coach, and I just looked at each other and were like, “this is the Olympic Trials, you gotta put it all out there,'” Spring said. ” I think I had so much adrenaline and everything you don’t really feel it when you are out there and tumbling and stuff.”

“I’m so excited and incredibly happy for Justin,” Valdez said in a press release. “He has made several sacrifices and has never given up. He went out and competed with his whole heart and made it happen.”

Spring’s wild ride will continue on to Beijing now. With limited time remaining until the Olympics, which run from August 8-24, training and maintaining good health are his main focus. Spring is expected to participate in all five of his events – parallel bar, high bar, vault, floor and rings – at the Olympics, at least for the preliminaries.

With plans to take the upcoming week to rest and recuperate, Spring will jump right back into training and conditioning in Champaign and may head to Ohio State to train with the Hamm brothers and other team members.

Right now, however, he is just taking in the moment.

“It’s unreal, it’s something I’ve been lusting after my whole life,” Spring said. “It’s still all settling in.”