LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The United States men’s gymnastics squad scrapped its way through its subdivision, then picked up a bit of luck along the way to advance to the team finals as qualifying competition concluded at the 1997 World Gymnastics Championships at the Malley Sports Center here Wednesday.

Powered by an aggressive and sometimes erratic performance, the USA finished sixth, good enough to advance to Thursday’s team finals, where the top six teams start with a clean slate. Joining the USA are China, Russia, Japan, Belarus and Germany. The Americans eliminated one of their primary competitors by defeating Romania, which competed in the same subdivision as the USA.
“We said just keep going all out, no matter what,” said USA head coach Peter Kormann, Columbus, Ohio, building on the theme of aggressive gymnastics that he established with the team motto that he unveiled at last month’s John Hancock U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Denver: “Guns Ablazin’.”
“If we make mistakes, I want them to be aggressive mistakes,” Kormann said. He pointed to the high bar routine of two-time USA all-around champion Blaine Wilson, Columbus, Ohio, as being indicative of how his team battled throughout the day. On a release move, Wilson missed with his regrasp with one hand, but held on with the other to complete the maneuver as a one-handed giant swing, drawing gasps from the crowd.
“All I knew was that I had to stay on the bar,” said Wilson. “That was the game plan: stay on the bar. When I grabbed it, I thought `I’m not coming off.'”
“That one-armed catch of Blaine’s was pretty typical of our team,” Kormann said. “We had a lot of scrapping to do. Our plan was to be aggressive, no matter what — don’t worry about what the scores are, who’s ahead of us, just keep going all-out, no matter what.”
Kormann also applauded the efforts of 17-year-old Jason Gatson, Mesa, Ariz. Competing in his first world championships, he suffered a fall on his best event, parallel bars, only to come back to nail his high bar routine, helping boost the USA into the team finals. “He got up off the fall on parallel bars and did the best high bar routine I’ve ever seen him do. That’s what we were looking for, and that’s what we got.”
Competing in the fifth subdivision, Team USA came off the podium ranked third, but began to see that position erode as it was overtaken by Germany, then Russia. The biggest threat to USA advancement, Ukraine, was stilled as injuries trimmed its squad to only four athletes, who proceeded to come apart on their last two events, the high bar and floor exercise.
The USA got a boost from the starting combination of Jay Thornton, Augusta, Ga., and Mike Dutka, Fairless Hills, Pa. The three events where Thornton started and Dutka was second were the top three events for the USA: floor, vault and parallel bars. “Neither one of those guys had ever been in a major international meet before today,” Kormann noted. “Going up early’s hard, but they’re good gymnasts, they knew what they had to and they did it.”
Action continues in Lausanne with the women’s and men’s team finals on Thursday, followed by individual all-around competition on Friday and individual event finals on Saturday and Sunday. For timely updates of the competition as it’s happening, go to USA Gymnastics Online at
USA Individual Event Results
All-Around (those competing in all six events) — Jason Gatson, Mesa, Ariz., 52.536. Blaine Wilson, Columbus, Ohio, 54.524.
Floor Exercise — Mike Dutka, Fairless Hills, Pa., 9.275. Gatson, 9.087. John Macready, Los Angeles, Calif., 8.937. Jay Thornton, Augusta, Ga., 9.200. Blaine Wilson, Columbus, Ohio, 8.337.
Pommel Horse — Dutka, 9.275. Gatson, 8.300. Macready, 8.075. John Roethlisberger, Minneapolis, Minn., 8.975. Wilson, 9.100.
Still Rings — Dutka, 8.025. Gatson, 8.712. Roethlisberger, 8.612. Thornton, 8.687. Wilson, 9.250.
Vault — Dutka, 9.512. Gatson, 9.512. Roethlisberger, 9.375. Thornton, 9.275. Wilson, 9.562.
Parallel Bars — Dutka, 8.712. Gatson, 7.725. Roethlisberger, 8.600. Thornton, 9.062. Wilson, 9.300.
High Bars — Gatson, 9.200. Macready, 8.600. Roethlisberger, 9.225. Thornton, 8.750. Wilson, 9.275.