The gym burned down. His coach left the profession for medical school. His college, BYU, locked him out of its facilities on Saturdays last summer so he couldn't train like he wanted. BYU's new coach wasn't sure he'd have time to work with a man who'd finished his college eligiblity. His training partner got hurt. And findingenough money to live on is always a problem.
But here's Provo's Bob Gauthier, in the Olympic trials for the first time at age 25 and probably the best he's ever been. "I'd say I'm peaking," he says.
"He just keeps plugging away and making progress rather than being a kid that gives up," says U.S. men's Olympic Coach Abie Grossfeld, who has known Gauthier since he was a youngster from Massachusetts working out in Grossfeld's Connecticut gym and competing against Grossfeld's collegiate teams. "He's made great improvement," Grossfeld says.
"That he made the final trials is a big accomplishment," says Grossfeld.
Actually, Gauthier had hoped to have placed in the top 10 at the Championships of the USA two weeks ago in Houston, where he did his best set of compulsory exercises ever. That was the qualifying meet for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials that start with men's compulsories Wednesday night in the Salt Palace, and its scores count 40 percent toward making the Olympic team. The trials count 60 percent.
Gauthier stands 15th after not attacking some of his early optionals like he could have, but he is only .8 of a point out of sixth place, and there are six spots to be had on the Olympic team. Of course, there are five more men who petitioned their way into the Olympic trials and didn't compete in Houston because of injuries; any of them could juggle the places ahead of Gauthier and make it harder for him.
But then, that's the way he wants it. If he makes the Olympic team, he wants it to be by his own merit. "I wouldn't want to go in as a fluke and compete in the Olympics because everyone else ahead of me missed," Gauthier says. "I want the team to win.
"This is the topping on the cake. My initial goal was to make the national team and compete internationally."
He's a three-time member of the national team, and he has competed in the Soviet Union and in Japan.
"I'm pretty sure I could do it if I have a good meet," Gauthier says, "but there are 15 others who could do it, too."
He has some real confidence now, though. In Houston, he was first man up in still rings compulsories and did well. In fact, he went on to place second in the meet on rings behind Dan Hayden, the all-around champ. "As the meet progressed, I was just hitting the compulsory routines, all six of them," Gauthier said. He had a personal-record score of 56.2. "Compulsories aren't my strong point, so I was happy," he says.
In the optionals, he made a few little nervous mistakes and didn't move up like he should. He was 23rd with two events left. He decided to go all out. "If I mess up, I mess up," he said to himself. He got 9.5 on pommel horse and moved into 18th with just rings left.
He went all-out again and scored 9.85, his best ever on rings. "One judge gave me a 10.0, my first ever. I couldn't believe it," he says.
Now comes the biggest meet of his life, and it's here in Utah. "It's been a long time since I competed in front of a crowd that's been for me," he says, hoping Ute gym fans in the Salt Palace will put aside their differences with BYU and root for him along with Missy Marlowe.
It's been a tough road for Gauthier, as it is for many world-class American male gymnasts. Because men peak at post-college ages, many have to find a way to keep training for two or three years after graduation. That means putting off job opportunities and begging the use of a gymnasium and often a coach.
When Gauthier married Lori, it helped financially because she's able to work, but there were new worries when Coach Wayne Young left BYU for medical school last year.
Gauthier and his training partner, Noah Riskin, a pal from Massachusetts who moved to Provo, had dedicated a year to making the Olympic team, but the gym burned down. Riskin went home. He returned in the summer, but Young soon left, and BYU's training facility was closed on weekends. "It was kind of tough, two of us working with no coach. Trying to train for the Olympics was kind of hard when the gym was locked on Saturdays," Gauthier explains.
Not knowing whether BYU's new coach, Mako Sakamoto, would accept them in the fall, Gauthier and Riskin thought of trying to go to the gymnastics school in Woodward, Pa., where Dan and Dennis Hayden now train, but neither had the money to do it.
"We decided to stick around. I just had to endure and
hope Mako would work with me," Gauthier says.
When Sakamoto arrived, he had to be convinced that Gauthier and Riskin were serious Olympic prospects. Once he was, he worked them harder than they'd ever worked. Then Riskin blew a knee at regional competition, leaving Gauthier to train by himself. "He's one of the reasons I've made it this far," says Gauthier.
And so is Sakamoto, who coached Peter Vidmar, Mitch Gaylord and Tim Daggett before the 1984 Olympics, helped Gauthier change his parallel bars and floor exercise routines completely and provided the finishing touch.
"I would think Sakamoto had a lot to do with it," says Grossfeld. "He's very disciplined."
"I've set a personal record here and there and probably am in the best shape I've been in in a long time," agrees Gauthier, saying the struggle "has been worth it. Gymnastics has been good to me so far.
"If I don't make it," he adds, "I won't have any regrets. I can say, `Yeah, I almost made the Olympics."'