Blaine Wilson

Catching up with 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

Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

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Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 2x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

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MORE: Jordan Burroughs: Time is running out

Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

Margo Sugarman
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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18. Joey Wagman, its starting pitcher for its first and last games this week, plies his trade for the independent-league Milwaukee Milkmen.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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