Catching up with Blaine Wilson

Blaine Wilson
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This three-time Olympic men’s gymnast once described himself as a cross between Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan.

Blaine Wilson had a one-of-a-kind personality and a performance record rivaled by few others in USA Gymnastics history. The pierced, tattooed and motorcycle-riding Ohioan preceded the Hamm twins, Jonathan Horton and Danell Leyva and John Orozco as the rock of U.S. men’s gymnastics.

He won five straight U.S. all-around titles from 1996 through 2000, a record he shares with George Wheeler. The 1936 Olympian Wheeler won his titles when the floor exercise was called “calisthenics” and ended his career to go into the Navy for World War II.

Back to Wilson. He competed in three Olympics, winning his sole medal in his final Games in 2004 as part of the U.S. team that bagged silver.

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Wilson to reflect on his career and discuss his current work.

OlympicTalk: Let’s talk about your Olympic experiences, beginning with 1996 [the U.S. men finished fifth; Wilson 10th in the all-around].

Wilson: I was young [21 years old] and just in awe of everything. You don’t realize how much of a big stage you’re on. I didn’t realize it until we actually walked out for our first day of competition. The curtain swung open, and 45,000 people in the Georgia Dome were chanting U-S-A. Wet behind the ears is all I can say.

OlympicTalk: In 2000, you were the leader, but it’s been said you overtrained [U.S. men were fifth; Wilson sixth in the all-around].

Wilson: I think we did overtrain just a little bit too much. I expected a whole lot of things to happen and was pushing to make things happen. I got a lot of media. I think I let a lot of that get to me. Instead of focusing on what I had to do, I believed it had already happened. Before I knew it, the Games were over. I should have done so many different things.

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OlympicTalk: In 2004, you finally got that Olympic silver medal as a team veteran.

Wilson: I was only fortunate enough to compete in two of six events in the team final — parallel bars and still rings [solid 9.712 and 9.637 scores]. I would have liked to do the all-around, but we had guys much more equipped to get higher scores [Paul Hamm and Brett McClure].

I remember getting to the last event, and I had to watch my teammates on high bar. Something I had worked my entire career for, a team medal, knowing it was completely out of my hands, I couldn’t watch it. I sat with my back to the high bar. All I did was cheer based on how my teammates were reacting. It made me sick and happy at the same time.

OlympicTalk: Who was your favorite fellow competitor?

Wilson: My idol was John Roethlisberger [1992, 1996, 2000 Olympian]. Still to this day. He taught me a lot about being passionate and wearing the American flag on your heart.

Internationally, I looked forward to competing against everybody. I hated competing against Russia, but I respected them. China, they were always smiling at us, unless things were really going south and they were sour. Japan never really showed any emotion.

OlympicTalk: What about competing against Russian legend Aleksey Nemov [12-time Olympic medalist]?

Wilson: If you didn’t know him, people would say he’s a real jerk. But I got a chance to go on tour with him, and he was a whole different cat. Between him and [Belarusian] Ivan Ivankov and others, there were a lot of guys I had the utmost respect for. Watching Nemov in his heyday, there was nobody touching him. He was phenomenal.

source: Getty Images
Blaine Wilson hugs Paul Hamm after the U.S. clinched team silver at the 2004 Olympics, Wilson’s first and only Olympic medal. (Getty Images)

OlympicTalk: What was it like being a part of U.S. men’s gymnastics as it evolved into one of the best teams in the world?

Wilson: I’ll never forget watching shows [early in my career] calling it the “dark days of U.S. men’s gymnastics” [laughs]. I was fortunate to come up in that time.

I loved being in the limelight. I loved being on TV, being different. It helped USA Gymnastics. You either liked me or you hated me.

We were close in 1996 and close with some problems in 2000 and then finally got it done in 2004. The only thing that really got to me was that John Roethlisberger retired before I could win a medal with him.

OlympicTalk: What are you doing now?

Wilson: I’m part owner of Integrity Gymnastics in Plain City, Ohio, 20 minutes outside of Columbus [where Wilson attended Ohio State].

I enjoy watching the kids attain a goal or get a new skill, do well at meets. It’s almost worse for me now [than when I competed] because I’m watching and I can’t control what they do at meets.

I also have three kids and a lovely wife [1996 U.S. Olympic rhythmic gymnast Aliane Baquerot]. Jackson, my 4-year-old, takes some gymnastics classes. My younger son, Bodhi, will be 2 on June 1st. He’s definitely not a gymnast. My daughter, Wakaya, is 11 and 5 feet tall, so gymnastics is definitely out of the question. Maybe golf or basketball.

OlympicTalk: Tell me about a current U.S. senior gymnast you like.

Wilson: I love Sam Mikulak. I was coaching the girls at SCATS Gymnastics [in Southern California] when he was there, in 2006 I think. I had a chance to help him out.

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OlympicTalk: What would you like to see changed in gymnastics?

Wilson: I’m really not a fan of the open-ended scoring. It’s terrible for the fan base. You have a lot of people watching the sport who don’t have a dang clue what’s going on. The 10.0 system is the way to go, and you have to find a way to bring it back.

Also the state of men’s college gymnastics. The fact is we only have 16 or 17 teams left. Temple should be ashamed of themselves for dropping the men’s program. Cal was in danger of losing their program. Air Force is in danger of losing their program, and there’s nothing they can do about it because it’s a government program.

If you look at the amount of guys on any U.S. Olympic Team, the majority of people came from college programs. I know USA Gymnastics is doing as much as they can, but that’s only one avenue.

OlympicTalk: Where do you keep the Olympic silver medal?

Wilson: It’s downstairs on a shelf with the rest of my wife’s memorabilia from the 1996 Games.

U.S. women sweep Pacific Rim team, all-around titles

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France vs. Mali Group B
4 a.m. Australia vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada vs. Japan Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final

Annemiek van Vleuten, with broken elbow, becomes oldest to win world road race title

Annemiek van Vleuten
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WOLLONGONG, Australia — Annemiek van Vleuten surprised herself and the rest of cycling by recording the finest win of her career on Saturday at the world road championships.

Overcoming an elbow fracture sustained three days earlier, the Dutch great won her second world road race title with an attack in the last 600 meters that caught the other eight leaders napping.

The 39-year-old rider and her Dutch teammates were in disbelief at the finish after she put the exclamation mark on a 164.3-kilometer event. She became the oldest man or woman to win a world championships road race, according to Gracenote.

The 2019 World champion and reigning Olympic and world time trial winner claimed cycling’s triple crown this year when she landed the Italian, French and Spanish tours.

But for Van Vleuten, who will retire at the end of next season, what she did on Saturday was extra special.

“Maybe this is my best victory . . . I am still speechless, I still can’t believe it,” she said. “It took me some time to realize I’d really pulled it off because I’m waiting for the moment that they tell me there was someone in front or it was a joke. I had the feeling it cannot be true.”

She crashed in Wednesday’s mixed team relay at the worlds and sustained the fracture, describing the pain during Saturday’s race as “hell.”

The win also continues the domination of the Dutch women, who have finished on the road race podium at all but three of the last 20 worlds.

Earlier Saturday, Britain’s Zoe Backstedt celebrated her 18th birthday by turning the junior road event into a one-woman race.

In wet and cold conditions, Backstedt cycled away from the peloton with a solo attack at 10 kms and stayed clear for the remaining 57 kms to win by more than two minutes. Eglantine Rayer of France was second ahead of Dutch rider Nienke Vinke.

Backstedt retained her junior road race title and also is a world champion on the track and in cyclocross.

The championships end Sunday with the men’s road race.

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