Seven Olympic hopefuls train in Columbus following the 2008 Tyson American Cup

After winning the 2008 Tyson American Cup all-around title March 1, his second in as many tries since returning to national competition, Paul Hamm and personal coach Miles Avery returned to Columbus, Ohio, from New York City. In Columbus, they were joined by five other members of the current U.S. Men’s Senior National team and Paul’s twin brother Morgan Hamm for a four day training camp.

Avery, head coach of the Ohio State men’s gymnastics program, hosted the seven athletes at Steelwood Athletic Training Facility. The practice gym of the Buckeyes, which also serves as the training venue for Olympians Blaine Wilson and Paul and Morgan Hamm, became the scene for a four day mini-training camp for the U.S. Olympic hopefuls March 3-6. During the camp, the seven athletes trained together for the U.S. Olympic Trials held June 19-22. At the conclusion of the trials, the national program will name the athletes who will represent the country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics this summer.

“It’s exciting to host a U.S. National training camp at Ohio State because you know Olympians are going to come from this group of guys,” Avery said. “Hosting it gives the OSU team an opportunity to see some of the best gymnastics in the country.”

On hand at the camp was Kevin Mazeika, 2008 Olympic Games head coach, Ron Brant, U.S. Senior National team coordinator, and Jon Valdez, personal coach of Justin Spring and University of Illinois assistant coach.

“Since we are not a centralized program, this is a way to help the guys build team camaraderie,” Brant said. “Other countries around the world meet monthly, but that is just not a feasible option for us. The mini camps serve as a check point for us so that we can evaluate where everyone is at so when we get to a large camp we can see where the gymnasts have improved. These camps function as the glue in between for us and help us focus more on individualized needs.”

Of the gymnasts at the training camp were former Buckeyes Wilson (1994-97), currently a volunteer assistant coach at Ohio State, and Raj Bhavsar (2000-03). In his career, Wilson, the most decorated OSU gymnast in program history, captured six NCAA individual titles, secured five-consecutive U.S. all-around titles (1996-2000) and earned a silver medal in the team competition at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Bhavsar served as an alternate for the 2004 Olympic Games, won U.S. national titles on vault in 2003 and rings in 2004 and is a two-time NCAA champion, including a victory in the all-around in 2002.

Both Paul Hamm and Bhavsar competed at the Tyson American Cup, with Hamm scoring a meet-high 94.4 to take the all-around. Bhavsar finished sixth with an 89.55.

Justin Spring, 2006 Nissen-Emery winner from University of Illinois, and Sean Townsend also flew into Columbus for the training session. Spring was petitioned on to the national team after he was unable to compete at the 2008 Winter Cup Challenge this past February because of an injury. Now driven to make his first Olympic team, Spring looks at the training camps as a time to gauge where he is in the process.

“This is my third camp since surgery and they are eye opening for me,” Spring said. “My first camp was almost demoralizing because I saw everyone improving and doing so much while I was stuck doing nothing. But by the second camp I was back into doing gymnastics. Being around guys that are at your caliber and training to reach the same goal helps because you see the path that everyone is taking.
“Coming back from injury, it’s easy to get lost in rehab, but having a path laid out by other U.S. team members has really helped me stay focused.”

And there to help the newcomers stay on track is Townsend, a member of the 2000 Olympic team.

“I’ve been through the process twice so I know what to expect,” he said. “It’s stressful going to the Olympic Trials so all the new guys are in for a big surprise because the crowds are a lot bigger and the pressure is on.

“At these training camps, you get a chance to work with and see how other U.S. National team members like Paul, Morgan and Blaine train and get feed back from them. It’s a motivator because sometimes you can get a little bored at gym working with the same guys in the same place. Training at a place like Ohio State is very beneficial, receiving different coaching from Miles and working with the guys.”

As the country readies for the Beijing Olympics, the national program is optimistic about the current makeup of the team, especially with the return of reigning Olympic all-around champion Paul Hamm.

“Paul is just a great competitor and when someone has won at that level, you know he’s got something that others don’t,” Brant said. “He’s a confidence builder for the rest of the team and it has other guys realizing the level of commitment they need to make mentally when they train. You can’t replace that.

“We’re on track nationally as a program and we are probably the one team around the world which is a surprise. We already have a good hold on who will make up the Olympic teams for countries but with the U.S., other countries are looking and trying to see who will make up this team. Because of that, I don’t think people know or understand what our total potential is and that’s a plus for us. We are excited about because we have a great group of guys and anything can happen.”