Tim Daggett needs time to heal. He doesn't have it.
Scott Johnson could use some extra time, too. But he won't get it either.The two holdovers from the 1984 gold medal team will be competing in pain at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials this week at the Salt Palace.
Daggett, 26, has the more severe injury. The breaks of the tibia and fibula in his left leg - the result of a mat shifting under his feet as he landed on his final vault at the world championships in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, last October - were so bad that not only was it assumed his career was over, but there was a real fear that the leg would have to be amputated.
Johnson's right hand looks like William the Refrigerator Perry stepped on it with his cleats on. There's a nasty scar where it was put back together after he missed grabbing the parallel bar with his palm after a flip in May. Instead, he re-caught it with the top part of his fingers - "It bent the fingers back and to the side," he said.
Still, Johnson, who at 27 is the oldest competitor, seemed to be performing well in practice at the Salt Palace Monday, despite having returned to the mats less than three weeks ago.
Daggett, though, had some problems - not unlike those hurdler Greg Foster faced when he had to compete two weeks ago at the Olympic Trials with a broken arm.
Daggett can't run. He hobbles. He may hobble fast, but he still hobbles. In fact Monday was the first time since his October accident that he vaulted without extra mats - and he only did it once.
There's some doubt as to whether he can complete all his routines in Wednesday's compulsories. Besides the vault, his toughest test will be in floor exercise, since that requires extensive use of his legs. The other events - pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and horizontal bar - will give his legs more relief.
"People don't know how amazing it is, not only that he's competing, that he's walking," said Susan Polakoff, media-public relations manager for the United States Gymnastics Federation.
Daggett is reminded of the injury every time he takes a step. "It hurts, it's not painless at all," he said during an interview after his workout. There were two ice bags on the injured leg.
"Right before I was pretty nervous. It's scary," he said about his vaulting practice. "When it comes time (to compete) you have to put those things out of your head."
Because of the problems he has running, he's relying more on his arms and upper body to see him through the vaults. "You've got to use what you have."
After having achieved the ultimate in his sport, a gold medal in '84, the obvious question is why? Why risk more injury? While the leg injury is his worst he's had other serious injuries - an ankle injury in 1986 that required reconstructive surgery and a ruptured disc in February of 1987 after crashing headfirst to the mat after losing his grip on the horizontal bar.
"I just have to try. It's something that's inside me as an athlete," he said.
He doesn't want to give up now, then wonder years from now what might have happened, he said. Plus, he has confidence he can pull it off. "I'm not a daredevil . . . I have smart people advising me.
"I've done gymnastics for 17 years of my life. It's been difficult and hard, but it's been the most enjoyable thing I've done."
Daggett's optimistic about his week. "I need so little to get through. If I can do one or two little things I have a chance to win the meet."
Johnson would appear to have the better chance of returning to the Olympics. Even though he's rusty, he's moving well.
When the doctors were placing the screws in his hand to repair it, Johnson wasn't sure whether he'd be able to come back in time for the trials. Both he and Daggett had to get to the trials via a petition because of their inability to do all the routines at the U.S. Championship meet in Houston in July.
But special casts and wraps seem to have worked for Johnson. He doesn't have to contend with as much pain as Daggett. It's a question of regaining top form.
He feels the two to three weeks of training are going to be enough to get him on the Olympic team, even though it usually takes six weeks to regain top form, he said. "It's incredible how well I've been able to do . . . Personally speaking I'm in very good shape," he said.
The two are good friends and draw strength from one another, Johnson said. "Tim and I have been competing since 1981 together. We've traveled around the world together."
What they would like to do next, is travel to Seoul together. In September.