Their silver lining
ATHENS, Greece - Memories flowed through Olympic gymnast Guard Young's head as he stood on the medals podium here Monday, an olive wreath on his head and a silver medal around his neck.
He envisioned his childhood hero and grownup friend, Peter Vidmar, a member of the 1984 U.S. men's gymnastic team that had won the only other Olympic medal for the United States since the team event was introduced in 1904 - and that had come in a Los Angeles Games diluted by the absence of boycotting Soviet bloc countries.
His thoughts also turned to the sacrifices made by his parents to ensure he could keep training through thick and thin, to his years at Brigham Young University and to the persistence that impelled him to go on through times when he doubted whether he could continue.
"I did take a moment and think that this wouldn't have been possible without help from my Heavenly Father," added the religious Young.
He and his teammates had a shot at gold, but a few slips left them depending on mistakes by Japan to get the team title.
It was not to be. The Japanese trio of Isao Yoneda, Takehiro Kashima and Hiroyuki Tomita responded to the pressure with flair, posting the three highest scores of the night on the horizontal bar to outscore the Americans 173.821 to 172.933. Romania took the bronze with 172.384 points.
As the first American competitor in its first event, the floor exercise, Young got the team off to a good start, sticking his routine and receiving a 9.700 from the judges. But he had a troubled dismount on the rings and over-rotated on his vault, causing him to take a couple of steps to regain balance.
Later, Young took solace in the fact he didn't go down.
"I did all I could just to stay on my feet. It could have been a disaster. I used every ounce of strength to hang on," he said, adding, "It's all about fighting."
Especially in a format like that used here at the Athens Olympics for the first time. Rather than giving teams some leeway by tossing out the lowest of five scores, this competition allowed each team to pick three athletes. Whatever they did added up to the team's score.
Young was not the only American to falter a bit. Even team star Paul Hamm missed a handhold on the horizontal bar. But like Young, he kept his grip just enough to prevent a fall that would have been more far more punishing to the team's score.
And with the way the Japanese responded under pressure, it was unlikely the Americans could have caught up, even if they had performed flawlessly.
"We always look to see good gymnastics," said Young, "and we made it so they had to go out there and earn it, and wow they did it."
Bart Conner, a member of the 1984 team, was ecstatic about the American medal after watching the event with his wife, fabled Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci.
"I know they wanted the gold, but this is a remarkable achievement," said Conner. "I feel like I'm going to throw up. It was so intense. I'm so proud of the U.S. guys. They had a few hiccups, but they didn't give up."
Young talked of a moment on the podium when he took his first close look at his silver medal. "Besides my wife [Alisha] and child [Tyler], it's the most beautiful thing I've seen."