Six Olympic hopefuls — all members of the 15-member U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team, vying for a spot in the 2008 Beijing Olympics — arrived at Broadway Gymnastic School in Del Rey Thursday and Friday morning, November 15th and 16th.
With the Olympics less than a year away, the top gymnasts in the country are focused and ready to practice.
U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team members Paul and Morgan Hamm, David Durante, Guillermo Alvarez, Jonathan Horton and Alex “Sasha” Artemev entered Broadway Gymnastics’ doors with U.S. Gymnastics men’s coach Miles Avery and U.S. men’s team coordinator Ron Brant.
The team — in town for interviews and the U.S. Olympic Ambassador Program, an event put on by the United States Olympic Committee to bring Olympic hopefuls together in one location to learn what it means to be an Olympian — had gotten lost on the way to the gym.
“We took the scenic route,” joked Avery, who is also the men’s gymnastics team head coach at Ohio State University and the Hamm brothers’ personal coach. “But we got here.”
When the team is on the road, “they can’t stop training, so we’re happy to be able to offer them our facilities,” says Mary Cates, owner of Broadway Gymnastics with her husband Mike.
It was important to “track down a gym to use that’s good” while the team was in Los Angeles, Brant said. And Broadway Gymnastics, which has been on the Westside since 1979, was the answer.
Although the team was in town for work and not pleasure, Paul Hamm said, “It’s good to be out here. We love L.A. It’s great to be with these guys. We’re looking forward to next year. We [Morgan and I] hope we’ll make the [Olympic] team.”
Durante, who became the 2007 men’s U.S. all-around champion in August, said it was good to be back in California, where he used to live when he attended Stanford University.
“The weather’s fantastic,” says Durante, who trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. “I miss this weather.”
Durante, the Hamm brothers, Alvarez, Horton and Artemev — who are training in different spots across the country — are all prime candidates for the 2008 Olympic men’s gymnastics team.
“These are our top guys — and Paul and Morgan’s Olympic experience [can help] to anchor the team,” says Avery. “These are some of our most seasoned, experienced gymnasts. And seasoned veterans are what we want to bring to Beijing.
“I think the depth that we have on this U.S. team is tremendous. We’re going to get better going into Beijing. We don’t know who’s going to Beijing, but whoever it is, we know we’re going to have some great, great experience.”
Paul and Morgan Hamm are the only members of the team with national Olympic experience under their belt.
Both brothers took two years off from gymnastics after the 2004 Athens Olympics, but they’ve been back at it for eight months now.
“It was hard to come back,” admits Paul, who was the first American ever to win gold in the men’s all-around competition at the 2004 Olympics. “I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Morgan Hamm recently had surgery on a torn pectoral muscle, but he expects to be back to gymnastics soon.
The surgery was successful and Morgan says the recovery is “going really well.”
He has been doing physical therapy and strengthening exercises as he waits to get back to the mat.
“A month from now, he’ll really be doing gymnastics,” says Avery. “And in another month, he’ll be world class.”
The team has quite a few competitions from now until the end of March.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials will be in Philadelphia in June of next year.
With the Olympics less than a year away, the team is ultra-focused and training hard.
“The year before the Olympics is the ‘mack daddy’ of all of them,” says Artemev, the 2006 men’s U.S. all-around champion, who is coached by his father, former Soviet gymnastics national team member Vladimir Artemev. “I’m just excited about this whole year.”
Horton, who recently finished fourth all-around at the World Championships, agrees.
“I think we all feel pretty good,” Horton says. “I see good things in the future for us and it’ll be an exciting year.”
Lately, the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team has taken the world by surprise.
In September, it finished fourth in the team finals at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, improving from 13th in 2006.
“I think with this team, we can compete against the best teams in the world,” Paul Hamm says. “With the group of guys we have right now, we can contend with anyone. This team now is a mystery to the rest of the world. I think a lot of these countries are going to be fearful not knowing what to expect.”
“It is a mystery to the world,” Avery says of the team, pointing out that a lot of the gymnasts on the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team haven’t been seen by the rest of the globe. “Some people didn’t even think we’d qualify [for the 2008 Olympics] and we came in fourth at Worlds. People wonder, ‘What are they going to do?’ We know we’re going to be good, but the rest of the world? They don’t know.”
Says Brandt, “With such a new groupÖ We’re the surprise team of the world. I think we’ve kind of shocked the world. We’re excited.
“These guys are a good group. The team is training really hard and we’re going to have some fun doing it.”