Camden's Golden fails to make men's Olympic gymnastics team

Camden's Sean Golden holds his pose on the rings during the men's competition Saturday.

It would be a celebration or a commiseration, but the backyard barbecue was going to happen if Sean Golden made it or not.

As it turned out, the party on Dayton Street in Camden, N.J., gave Golden the support he needed. Golden did not make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

"It's definitely nice to be here," said Golden, as dozens of family and friends milled in and out of his parents' tidy, small house. "These are the people who have been with me through thick and thin."

Yesterday was decidedly thin.

The sacrifice, the risk, the expense, the pain - for 20 years, Golden and his family endured it. The unlikeliest prospective Olympian, the youngest of six, raised in the depths of one of the nation's most crime-ridden cities, Golden last night understood and accepted.

"It was a tough team to make," said Golden, who, at 24, is considering an attempt to make the 2012 team.

Golden not only was left off the six-man Olympic team but he also was not named as one of the three alternates. For 11 hours Saturday and yesterday the five-person selection committee crunched numbers and considered 49 scenarios. It took them 2 hours longer than they expected, projecting the best team from results at the Visa Championships last month and the men's 2-day trials held Thursday and Saturday at the Wachovia Center.

Golden was a casualty of the system: "Any time somebody puts so much of himself into something and doesn't get the result they want, it's disappointing."

But not embittering.

"I definitely think they have the best Olympic team," Golden said. "I've said all along, if the best team doesn't have me on it, so be it."

With an eye toward beating the favored host, China, the committee weighted gymnasts' consistency and versatility - the latter, especially, given the possible complications surrounding ace all-around performer Paul Hamm, who did not compete due to a broken bone in his right hand suffered last month but who was named to the team anyway.

"We had to find replacements who could back Paul up," said Ron Brant, the national team coordinator and a committee member.

In 10 days, Hamm said, he is scheduled to see doctors and hopes to gain clearance to resume gymnastics activities. He will try to prove his hand's soundness July 22 at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Hamm and Jonathan Horton, the trials' all-around top finisher, were named to the Olympic team Saturday. Golden and the rest had to wait to find out their fate.

Golden is a three-event specialist and hoped to finish in the top three in each. In front of a hometown crowd, he managed the top scores on vault and floor exercise Saturday but tied for fourth on rings. At the Visas, he took second on the vault, tied for third on the rings and tied for eighth on the floor.

That didn't cut it.

"It's a puzzle," said national team coach Kevin Mazeika, who also is Golden's personal coach. "Sometimes, you fit into the puzzle. Sometimes you don't."

This time, Justin Spring did.

After six surgeries to repair assorted ailments, most recently a 2007 ACL tear in his knee, Spring, especially strong on high bar and parallel bars, was named to the team just a few days after a back flare-up had him contemplating finally quitting the sport. Yesterday, in reliving the moment, he literally threw his hands up.

"In a lot of ways, I was relieved," Spring said.

So was Hamm upon learning that his twin brother, Morgan, would join him on a third Olympic team. Morgan, who tore a pectoral muscle 8 months ago, did not distinguish himself Saturday, but he made it anyway.

This Olympics is a comeback for both Hamms, who stopped competing after the 2004 Games.

"I was really relieved when Morgan's name was called," Paul Hamm said. "I knew he was kind of on the bubble. It feels good knowing that he'll be in the gym, pushing me, during my comeback . . . We're so pumped right now."

They would have been out of place at the barbecue - to a degree.

"He gave it 110 percent," said Ron Golden, Sean's father.

"I couldn't have asked any more of myself," Golden said. "There are no regrets."


The rest of the men's team: Golden's roommate, Kevin Tan; high bar standout Joe Hagerty; alternate David Durante, whose strength on the pommel horse could prove key since talented but inconsistent alternate Sasha Artemev faltered at the Visas and at the trials and missed the cut; and consistent performer Raj Bhavsar, an alternate for the second straight Games and Golden's other roommate . . . Visa Championships winner David Sender, who did not compete due to an ankle injury suffered in practice earlier this week, did not make the team. *