- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

BEIJING – Making only two mistakes on 30 scored routines Saturday afternoon, the U.S. men’s gymnastics team put itself in position to advance to the team finals.

Two days after the U.S. lost Morgan Hamm to an ankle/leg injury, the U.S. rallied to win its subdivision by nearly eight points over Spain.

If the U.S. is among the top eight team scores, it advances to Monday’s team finals. The Americans will not know its fate until late Sunday morning East Coast time.

“It was incredible to be out there,” said Jonathan Horton. “Before the competition we told ourselves, ‘No holding back.’ We were going to compete like it was our last day in the Olympic Games. And that’s what we did. If we make it to Day Two, we feel like we’re going to stay on fire and keep the ball rolling.”

Horton led the U.S. with 91.650 points and all six of his scores counted toward the team total.

Burke native Justin Spring competed in five events and his 15.80 in the parallel bars puts him in position to advance to the event finals later this week.

“They put on incredible performances today,” coach Kevin Mazeika said.

The only major miscues were Alex Artemev struggling on rings and Spring over rotating on a pass during his floor routine.

All six gymnasts were making their Olympic debuts but they didn’t show it. The consistency Mazeika stressed during preparation was confirmed by the performances – no competitor had more than two scores thrown out.

“A lot of people wondered if we could physically and emotionally move on with Paul and Morgan,” Spring said. “I didn’t doubt us for a second. We did exactly what we needed to do. We have a few places to clean up and we made a few mistakes but that’s perfect – we don’t want to blow out on the first day.”

Spring had two highlights: A high bar routine that earned him a 15.375 and a large ovation after he stuck his landing and a parallel bar set that was best of the session.

“The way Justin competes, it was right on the edge and he had amazing high bar and parallel bar routines,” Mazieka said. “He really came through for us in those events.”

Said Spring: “The [parallel bars] was good. I did well in that all four days of Visas and the Olympic trials and they put me last in the lineup so I owned up. I’m hoping it’s enough to make the finals. My goal was to get a 16.”

Artemev ended the United States‘ day with the sessions’ best pommel horse score (15.250). He fell off the horse at trials, likely keeping him off the team. With a second chance, he was efficient. Artemev is a former Worlds bronze medalist in the event.

“I’m really confident in the routine I’m doing right now,” he said. “The horse is a little wider so I can swivel a little bit.”

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