- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2008

PHILADELPHIA | Walking through the bowels of Wachovia Center on Sunday afternoon following numerous requests to tell his life story, Justin Spring was finally able not to think about the six surgeries he underwent on his journey to becoming a part of the U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team.

Finally free to glance at his Blackberry and gulp down a bottle of Dasani, the key numbers were 37 (text messages), 12 (missed calls) and one (throbbing headache).

Shortly before 4 p.m., Spring, who grew up in Burke and attended Lake Braddock High School, was one of four names announced by the program’s selection committee to join Paul Hamm and Jonathan Horton on the team that will begin competition in Beijing on Aug. 9.

Considered a long shot entering the Olympic trials Thursday, Spring put together two solid days of performances to earn a spot. To reach China, he must maintain his health through a training camp that concludes July 22 in Colorado Springs.

“I’m still trying to get used to being called an Olympian,” Spring said. “It’s totally unreal. I have a splitting headache because my body has been on edge the last four hours.”

The selection committee originally intended to name the team during a 1:30 p.m. meeting at a downtown hotel. But when the gymnasts gathered, they were told it would be another two hours. Spring spent the time walking “anywhere and everywhere except for the same place.”

The first name called was Joe Hagerty. Spring and coach Jon Valdez both thought Spring’s Olympic dream had just been dashed.

“During this entire process, I thought Joe and I were the same kind of gymnast in a lot of ways, and I didn’t think there was a way we could be on the same team,” Spring said. “When his name was called, I thought, ‘Alternate or not on the team at all.’ Two names later, I heard my name.”

Said Valdez: “My heart sunk to the lowest you can probably imagine. … And then it was complete and utter shock when they called his name.”

Spring, Hagerty, Kevin Tan and Morgan Hamm join Paul Hamm and Horton on the six-man roster. The alternates are Alex Artemev (likely the last cut), Raj Bhavsar and David Durante.

Ron Brant, the men’s senior team coordinator, said the committee poured over 49 six-man scenarios and added Spring earned a spot by making no glaring errors in any of his 10 routines. Spring finished first in the parallel bars, second in vault and third in the high bar. He was also strong on the floor exercise Saturday, posting the second-best score.

“He did a great job, and he went out there and brought the scores in,” Brant said. “He wasn’t a slam dunk by any means, but what he did here was show consistency.”

Said Horton: “Justin was the biggest star this week. He did an incredible job. To put on a consistent showing was what this team needs.”

After hearing his name called, Spring burst out of a conference room and was greeted by his parents. Talking about his father, Rocky, choked up Justin for just a moment. While his parents were on their way back to Northern Virginia, Spring was introduced before the women’s finals.

Later this week, Spring will return to the gym near his home in Champaign, Ill. Valdez said a trip to Columbus, Ohio, to train with Paul and Morgan Hamm is possible before the Olympic team camp starts in Colorado Springs. Spring’s training will include monitoring his reconstructed left knee, sprained right ankle and occasionally balky back.

“I’ve been through so many injuries and so many ups and downs - I’m going there hoping to be just as consistent as I was during this two-week process,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll change my routines at all. I’m on this team because I proved to be consistent.”

In the Olympics’ 6-5-4 scoring format (six gymnasts a team, five compete in each event, top four scores are counted), Spring is expected to compete in the high bar, parallel bars, floor exercise and vault.

Valdez expects Spring to be relaxed during the Olympics despite this being his first trip.

“[Earning a medal] is a possibility on both [high bar and parallel bars], and he could definitely make the event finals on parallel bars,” Valdez said. “He’s going to perform better at the Olympics because the trials was the pressure. Now it’s going to be fun, and he thrives on the fun aspect. If he can go and have fun, he’ll do a great job.”