- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

BEIJING | Only MMA fighters and hockey players have accumulated more scars in the last four years than Justin Spring. On his road to China, the Burke gymnast underwent four surgeries and punished his body with quick rehabilitations and daring routines in an effort to prove himself to USA Gymnastics officials.

He can consider himself proven.

Spring, performing on three of the four events, helped the United States move from sixth place after the first day of team competition to a bronze medal Tuesday at the National Indoor Stadium.

During an improbable day for the program, which just two years ago placed 13th at the world championships, the United States starred on rings and high bar to outscore Germany by 1.25 points. China was the runaway winner, and Japan finished second.

Spring drew a huge ovation from the fans when he stuck his landing on the high bar, a routine that included three release moves from the bar.

“After we rocked high bar, it was happening,” he said. “Between [Jonathan] Horton and I, we left the bar six times with a lot of risk and huge dismounts. And we rocked it. When Joey [Hagerty] hit, I felt, ‘We can’t do anything wrong. We’re going to finish it up.’ And we did enough.”

Just barely. After a floor score that ranked seventh out of eight teams, the United States moved to the pommel horse. Raj Bhavsar was low risk, and Kevin Tan had to stop his routine to regrip momentarily the apparatus. But Alex Artemev’s 15.350-point effort proved enough to clinch the medal.

Not bad for a team with no Olympic experience and two of the original six selections watching with injuries.

“An unbelievable day for us,” coach Kevin Mazeika said. “Considering everything we’ve been through, it was a tumultuous roller coaster ride. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”

Said Spring: “My goal was to just get on the team. I kept pushing and kept fighting and did what I could. And we came out with some hardware.”

Spring said he will try to make the 2012 team, but first comes a tour with other Olympians, ankle surgery and time off.

“But then we go back and gear up those start values,” he said, referring to the level of difficulty in his routines.

That’s where the proven part comes into play, Spring hopes.

For the last year, he was always in show-me mode. He had to rebound from injuries quickly. He had to lessen the start values on his routines because they were more physically taxing and he needed consistent scores to make an impression.

“Because of the injuries, we haven’t had much of a chance to upgrade his difficulty,” said his coach, Jon Valdez.

Now that he has shown USA Gymnastics officials what he can do on a world stage, Spring hopes he has earned some equity.

“I’m an Olympian and a medalist for the USA - I hope it will give me a little more time because every meet we go to, it’s a remake for the national team,” he said. “Every meet is where you reup your spot. It gets difficult to upgrade without worrying about falling and not making the team.

“In some ways, it gives all of us a little more pull. We’re the veterans. We’re going to be around. We can handle the pressure. We’re capable of great things. So let me train, upgrade and take time. We’re going to take things slow and play it smart.”

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