Jonathan Horton

Jonathan Horton boosted by 2008 teammate to successful return

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PITTSBURGH — They delivered the diagnosis to Jonathan Horton while he was on a table in December. A torn pec.

If Horton had ended his career then and there, he would go down as one of the greatest U.S. men’s gymnasts ever.

He led the program in 2008, when an Olympic team bronze meant surprising success, and contributed through 2012, when not making the Olympic team podium meant unexpected failure.

Horton competed in London with a right shoulder “torn to shreds,” a doctor told him right after the Games. Reconstructive surgery. Rehab. Return. Then the torn pec at a national team camp.

So Horton, on that table, heard the news. He gazed at a group around him, including his coach.

“I’ll be at Championships,” he said. Horton meant the P&G Championships, to be held eight months later.

“I was like, uh … OK, he’s being a little aggressive,” said Tom Meadows, Horton’s coach. “We all know the reality of a torn pec.”

The reality was Horton was at P&G Championships, his first competition since the London Olympics. He finished eighth in the all-around and made the U.S. national team.

Horton was not selected for the six-man World Championships squad, but he did accept a spot on the team for the Pan American Championships in Toronto this week.

“What a testament,” Meadows said Sunday.

Truth is, Meadows doubted Horton even on the final day of competition at Consol Energy Center.

“I was concerned coming into [Sunday] if he was going to be able to make all six events, just to make it through, because he was tired,” he said.

Horton’s status was complicated in the hotel shower Sunday morning.

He inadvertently slammed his elbow into a soap tray.

“Like full force,” Horton said. “My elbow split open.”

He didn’t know it at the time, but it was a burst bursa sac. Horton walked out of the shower and turned to his wife, Haley, a former gymnast and medical student.

“Is this normal?” Horton asked.

Haley “freaked out” (Horton’s words) and helped compress the elbow with tape.

“It didn’t affect me at all [Sunday],” Horton said. “It stiffened up a little bit, but not a big deal.”

Horton performed better Sunday than he did the first day of competition Friday, despite his coach’s fear and his shower slip up. He was 12th in the all-around after Friday. He was fifth best Sunday to move up to eighth overall.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Horton said. “I would say, in terms of where I want to be in two years [in Rio de Janeiro as the oldest U.S. Olympic men’s gymnast since 1956], I’m about 50 percent. I’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up to these guys, but I’m up to the challenge.”

He expects to be able to hang with Sam Mikulak, who on Sunday became the first man since Horton to win back-to-back U.S. all-around titles. Mikulak is seven years younger than Horton, a 2012 Olympic teammate.

One of Horton’s 2008 Olympic teammates was in his ear Sunday — Raj Bhavsar. Bhavsar didn’t make his one and only Olympic team until he was nearly 28 years old, as an injury replacement, and after being an alternate in 2004.

He approached Horton before competition and offered some help.

“[Bhavsar] was like hey man, if you’re OK with it, I know what you’re going through,” Horton said. “You’re the older guy out here. You’ve gone through surgeries. You’re trying to push through and stay up to this level. He’s like, if you want man, I can help you out. I can give you some advice.

“I said, absolutely. Stay in my ear, because I’m dead. I’m exhausted. I needed it.”

“I kind of walked in here afraid to compete because of how tired I felt. It shows that the mental side of gymnastics is so important because mentally I stayed in my own little world and just relaxed instead of being so uptight [Sunday].”

Coincidentally, Horton also rotated Sunday with the man Bhavsar filled in for on the 2008 Olympic team, the 2004 Olympic all-around champion Paul Hamm.

Hamm was coaching another gymnast in Horton’s group. Hand and shoulder injuries eventually forced Hamm off the Beijing Olympic team, and he eventually retired for good in 2012.

Horton hopes he’s not yet in the twilight of his career. He insists he could compete in 2020.

“I’m extremely happy with the path that I’m on,” Horton said.

Mary Lou Retton in awe of Simone Biles

Rio Olympic, Paralympic medals to be unveiled June 16

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The medals for the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games will be unveiled June 16, 50 days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, Rio Games and International Paralympic Committee officials said Friday.

The Olympic and Paralympic medals are different designs.

It’s the closest to the Opening Ceremony that Olympic medals have been unveiled since 2000:

Sochi 2014 — Eight months ahead of time
London 2012 — One year ahead
Vancouver 2010 — Four months ahead
Beijing 2008 — 17 months ahead
Torino 2006 — Two months ahead
Athens 2004 — 13 months ahead
Salt Lake City 2002 — Four months ahead
Sydney 2000 — One month ahead

MORE: Pelé on Rio Olympics, lighting the cauldron

Bob Bowman talks new book, Olympic memories, Michael Phelps

Bob Bowman
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While at TODAY to discuss his new book, “The Golden Rules,” with Matt Lauer, U.S. Olympic men’s swimming head coach Bob Bowman sat down with OlympicTalk last week.

In “The Golden Rules,” Bowman details 10 steps to world-class excellence in life and work, illustrating them with lessons learned from coaching not only Michael Phelps, but also several more world-class swimmers and his own personal experiences.

Bowman answered questions about his book, Phelps’ training for the Olympic Trials and his memories from coaching the past two decades:

OlympicTalk: Why write and come out with a book now?

Bowman: Well, quite honestly, I think this is when it could get the most widespread coverage. The message can be the most effectively given, because it’s in our Olympic window. I’ve been working on it for four years, so it’s kind of been a long process. Right after London I started working on it. It just seemed like this year is perfect timing.

OlympicTalk: In May 2012, you said you would take a year off from coaching after the Olympics. Now that you’re back, and now coaching a college program, how much longer do you see yourself coaching?

Bowman: I think a long time now. One thing I learned on that break, I’m a terrible vacationer. I have to make myself sit at the beach. I’m probably going to work as long as I can work. It’s what I love to do. So, I’m healthy, don’t see why I won’t go for a long time.

EXCERPT: Bowman and Phelps’ first conversation about a comeback

OlympicTalk: Do you and Phelps have an idea of what you’d like to focus on in his final pre-Olympic Trials meet in Austin (June 3-5)?

Bowman: There are a couple of things that he needs to do. You know, he hasn’t really done too many 200m frees [in his comeback]. I think you’ll see him in a 200m free. And he has some goals that he has for the other events that he’d like to hit before trials, so that’s what we’re working on.

OlympicTalk: If Phelps wants to swim the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays in Rio, does he need to put up a fast time at trials?

Bowman: Well, I think he needs to put up a time, sometime, to let us know that he’s on that level. Intuitively, we know, but, yeah, he’s going to have to put up some times. It could be [in Austin].

OlympicTalk: As U.S. Olympic men’s head coach, what are your early thoughts on the relays?

Bowman: I think in the 4x200m [free], we’re looking pretty strong. I think we have some young guys that are very good. We’ve got Michael, Ryan [Lochte], the kind of mainstays. Conor [Dwyer] is on fire. He’s been training with us in altitude

The 4x100m is still a little bit of a question mark, but I feel better about it as we go along. I think we’ve got some young guys coming up who are going to step up. Nathan [Adrian] is obviously very solid. I think Michael put in a really solid 100m. So I feel better about it. I don’t know exactly how far we can go, but I think we’re a lot better than we were a year ago.

Editor’s Note: The U.S. had a disastrous 11th-place finish in preliminaries at the World Championships 4x100m free relay on Aug. 2, without Phelps, Lochte or Adrian.

OlympicTalk: Two years ago, we were all concerned about Allison Schmitt after she failed to make the World Championships team. She’s swimming well again. What happened in the last two years? 

Bowman: She’s really just gone through some very tough times, battling depression, and she’s kind of come out the other side. I think she’s really worked very hard on her mental aspects of swimming. The physical was never really a question. She’s trying to put all the pieces together. And now she’s really kind of become a much stronger person, and it’s really showing. Her training is as good as it’s ever been.

Editor’s Note: Bowman expects Schmitt to swim three events at the Olympic Trials — 100m, 200m and 400m freestyles. Schmitt took gold in the 200m and silver in the 400m at the 2012 Olympics.

MORE: Phelps’ concussion, more highlights from ‘The Golden Rules’

OlympicTalk: Other than those you’ve coached, who is the most impressive swimmer you’ve seen?

Bowman: I’d have to say [Katie] Ledecky. She has been so consistent at such a high level. Someone asked me about the most amazing swims I’ve ever seen are, and I’m going to have to say that one of them is certainly Katie’s 8:06 that she swam in Austin [an 800m freestyle world record on Jan. 17]. 4:03/4:03 [splits]. For a long time, 4:03 was a world record [in the 400m freestyle], and I thought it would never be touched. To do two of those? Absolutely amazing.

OlympicTalk: What about international swimmers?

Bowman: I’ve always been a big Ian Thorpe fan. He’s such an incredible swimmer at his peak. There have been so many. [Kosuke] Kitajima the breaststroker. There have been some really, really kind of dominant swimmers during their window in time. Which, as I see that now, I’m even more amazed that Michael’s been able to maintain that level for so long.

OlympicTalk: What’s your favorite of Phelps’ Olympic swims?

Bowman: That’s hard to say. His best in terms of just a pure performance was his 200m free in Beijing [then a world record; Phelps has said that’s his best swim at an Olympics]. A dominating performance. My personal favorite is the 4:03 [400m individual medley] from Beijing [still a world record]. But I also love his 400m IM from Athens, his first gold medal. So those are kind of my top three.

OlympicTalk: We’ve all heard the stories of Phelps in Sydney in 2000, forgetting his credential and leaving his suit strings untied. What do you remember about those Games?

Bowman: I remember that we were so happy to be there, and the thing I loved is he got faster. Every time he swam, he got faster. He did a best time every time he swam. But there was so much more left to do. I’ve just seen a video, NBC’s doing a little promo this week, they show him diving in in Sydney. He kicks his legs back. He doesn’t kick underwater. There are like a million things he could have done better. So that’s what I remember. He was just a kid having fun.

OlympicTalk: Did you make any rookie Olympic mistakes as a coach in Atlanta or Sydney?

Bowman: No, because the kid [I coached in Atlanta] was the same age as me [laughs]. I didn’t have to do anything. Eric Wunderlich, he trained himself [Wunderlich was 26 in Atlanta; Bowman was 32]. Actually, in Sydney, I don’t know if I made any mistakes, but I probably just didn’t know how the game was played. It was just inexperience in the schedule, reminding Michael to have his credential. Those kinds of things. I think that’s what I didn’t really think of.

VIDEO: Bowman discusses ‘The Golden Rules’ on TODAY