Olympic Spotlight: Gymnastics' Paul Hamm, Justin Spring, Kevin Tan and Blaine Wilson
July 22, 2008
by Jeff Smith
With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports. In today’s “Olympic Spotlight” feature, we take a look at the Olympic gymnastics careers of Illinois’ Justin Spring, Ohio State’s Paul Hamm and Blaine Wilson, and Penn State’s Kevin Tan.
BLAINE WILSON, GYMNASTICS, OHIO STATE, 1994-97
Ohio State’s Blaine Wilson was a three-time Olympian for the U.S. men’s gymnastics team and recently missed out on earning his fourth consecutive trip to the Summer Games. A competitor at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics, Wilson was vying for a trip to Beijing, but withdrew from the U.S. Championships after two events and announced his immediate retirement from the sport. Wilson will be remembered in the gymnastics community as arguably one of the most decorated male gymnasts of all-time. Throughout his career, Wilson was a four-time champion of the American Cup and became the third man all-time to win at least five consecutive U.S. all-around titles.
In his first Olympics Games, Wilson traveled to Atlanta in 1996 fresh off his second-straight national championship. It was a disappointing Olympiad for Wilson as he finished seventh on the rings and 10th in the overall, while helping the U.S. to a fifth-place result.
Following the 1996 Games, Wilson went on to capture the national title over the next three years and then placed fourth at the 1999 World Championships, which was the best result a U.S. male gymnasts ever recorded in World or Olympic competition. Even then he was just .001 of a point shy of achieving a bronze medal.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Wilson guided the team to another fifth-place finish, while he placed sixth in the all-around.
A rotator cuff injury in 2001 forced Wilson out of competition for the remainder of the year, but he rebounded to take his first medal in international competition in 2003 when he helped the U.S. team win silver at the World Championships.
One year later, he tore his bicep tendon in his left arm at the 2004 VISA America Cup, which left him doubtful for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Wilson rehabbed and rebounded to make the team and help the Americans earn the silver medal.
During his time at Ohio State, Wilson captured 11 Big Ten individual championships while helping the Buckeyes to three conference crowns. He set the modern-day record for most individual titles in a single season with five (AA, HB, PH, Rings, FX) at the 1997 Big Ten Championships. The four-time All-Conference honoree also captured the 1996 and 1997 NCAA all-around and rings titles, while taking home the parallel bars crown in 1996 and the vault championship in 1997. Following the 1997 season, in which he earned his third straight Big Ten Gymnast of the Year accolade, Wilson was honored by the conference with the Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year award.
PAUL HAMM, GYMNASTICS, OHIO STATE, 2004-07
Ohio State’s Paul Hamm will join Illinois’ Justin Spring and Penn State’s Kevin Tan to make up half of the six-member U.S. Gymnastics team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. While Spring and Tan will make their first Olympic appearance, Hamm will be competing in his third Summer Games.
In Sydney at the 2000 Olympics, Hamm finished 14th in the all-around competition and joined fellow Buckeye Blaine Wilson to help the team to a fifth-place finish. Hamm would then compete in numerous international competitions over the next four years to prepare him for a historic Olympiad in 2004.
After finishing seventh in the all-around at the 2001 World Championships, Hamm returned to the U.S. to win the all-around, pommel horse and vault competitions at the 2002 U.S. Championships. He placed third in the floor exercise at the 2002 Worlds, but responded with first-place finishes in the all-around and the floor at the 2003 event while helping the U.S. to the silver medal. Hamm made history at the event by becoming the first-ever U.S. man to win the world all-around title.
At the 2004 Olympics, Hamm captured the all-around competition, becoming the only American man in Olympic history to win the gold medal in that event. In addition, he earned a silver medal in the horizontal bar and helped the team earn the silver medal as well.
Hamm has been in the news this summer regarding his qualification for the 2008 Olympic squad. Earlier this spring at the VISA Championships, Hamm held a significant lead in the all-around competition, but broke his hand during the parallel bars routine. Despite the injury, for which he immediately had surgery, Hamm was named to the 14-member Senior National team. He was then named to the U.S. Olympic team on June 21, pending his ability to show that he could be competitive in Beijing. This past Saturday (July 19) in Colorado Springs, Colo., Hamm successfully demonstrated competitive readiness before the USA Gymnastics committee members, who then confirmed his ticket to Beijing.
While Hamm never officially competed for Ohio State in Big Ten competition, he and his brother and Olympic teammate Morgan Hamm enrolled at OSU following the 2004 Olympics and recently completed their undergraduate degrees. Both Hamm brothers have continued to train under Buckeye head coach Miles Avery, who was recently named assistant coach of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team.
JUSTIN SPRING, GYMNASTICS, ILLINOIS, 2003-06
Illinois’ Justin Spring is the Big Ten’s most recent graduate to become an Olympian. Spring earned an invitation to the U.S. Olympic squad by way of his remarkable resume over the past three years. This past May, he captured the parallel bars title at the VISA Championships and also tied for sixth on the vault. The victory on the parallel bars marked his third national title, as he also placed first on the high bar in 2005 and 2007.
It was a return to glory so to speak for Spring, who missed nine months of competition after tearing his ACL at the 2007 World Championships in Germany last September. Spring entered that competition with momentum, having taken home the gold medal in the parallel bars at the 2007 Pan American Games in July and then a gold in the high bar and a silver on the floor at the VISA Championships in August.
During his time at Illinois, Spring was a four-time NCAA Champion, winning a pair of titles on high bar in both 2004 and 2006 and back-to-back crowns on parallel bars in 2005 and 2006. He captured three Big Ten titles on parallel bars and all-around in 2006 and on the floor exercise in 2004. As a senior in 1996, he was named the Big Ten’s Gymnast of the Year, earned his third-straight All-Conference accolade, and was honored with the prestigious NCAA Nissen-Emery Award. The 12-time All-American left Illinois as the school’s record holder on floor exercise, vault, parallel bars and high bar.
Tan, an assistant coach for the Nittany Lions and the school’s first American Olympian since 1976, captured his third straight still rings title at the 2008 VISA Championships and cemented his place among the nation's elite. He also placed fourth in the parallel bars, fifth in the high bar and sixth in the pommel horse at the event
On Monday (July 21), Tan was named captain of the U.S. men's gymnastics team for the Beijing Olympics.
The former Penn State standout has been a staple of the U.S. men’s gymnastics program since he graduated. He was named the captain of Team USA for the 2006 World Championships and earned a bronze medal on rings at the 2006 DKB Pokal World Cup.
When Tan was competing at Penn State, he was a five-time All-American and an NCAA still rings champion in 2003 and 2004, marking the first time the school had a back-to-back national champion. He was a three-time Big Ten rings champion as well as a parallel bar event winner and helped the Nittany Lions to the 2004 NCAA team title. Since joining the PSU coaching staff full-time in 2006, Tan helped guide the program to its 12th national championship in 2007 and was honored that same season as the NACGC Assistant Coach of the Year.