Guard Young

Ever since Guard Young decided to become a serious gymnast, at about age 10, his father's reputation was there in front of him. Wayne Young had been captain of the 1976 U.S. men's gymnastics team at the Montreal Olympics, and he later coached the BYU gymnastics team (1979-87).

Actually, Guard enjoyed it when people he met spoke of his father's prowess in the sport. It was a source of pride. "He was a phenomenal gymnast for his time," Guard says.

"Ancient history," Wayne says of his time in the Olympics, when rules were different, the U.S. was hardly feared in the sport and the athletes were "dirt poor" amateurs.

When the 2004 U.S. men's gymnastics team competes Aug. 14-23 in Greece, the place where the Olympics were born, the "ancient history" of 1976 will blend with the current as Guard Young becomes the second Olympic gymnast in his family, accomplishing what his father calls his son's "dream of a whole life.

"For Guard, it was important for him to do what his dad did. It was always kind of a monkey on his back. This is nice. He's always measured, and that's not fair," says Wayne, an Orem obstetrician who, with wife Carol, has seven grown children, two boys and five girls, and is adamant that this accomplishment is no better than what the others have done.

Still, "I'm excited I have a kid who has an opportunity to be at this level," Wayne says, adding that Guard, who spent four years on the BYU team before it was disbanded, is "far more accomplished than I" and faces more pressure in the Olympics because both he and the team have a chance to win medals.

Guard finished sixth in last month's Olympic trials at Anaheim, Calif., but only the first four qualified for spots on the U.S. team. Guard and six others had to compete again in mid-July in Colorado Springs, Colo., before a selection committee before Guard and former Olympian Blaine Wilson were chosen for the other two tickets to Athens.

Guard, Wayne, Guard's coach Mark Williams and Guard's wife Alisha say Young performed as well as he ever has during the selection camp and seized the roster spot in what he had determined would be, at age 27, his final attempt to qualify for an Olympic team. He'd been either a starter or alternate on the last three world championship teams but was 10th in the trials for the Sydney Games.

In his favor was that the four automatic members of the team needed some help in areas where Guard is strong — floor and rings, "so I thought I was in a good situation," he says. He's also good on vault. If he's to medal, it's likely on floor.

"He blew them away. Both days he was really strong," says Alisha of the recent selection camp. "I think he made them choose him."

Alisha met Guard while both were students at BYU. Their older sisters lived in the same apartment and shared a car and football tickets.

Being part of the Olympic team has not yet changed the Youngs' lives. "Afterward it might change a bunch," he admits. But for the past several weeks, he's spent the time training, as always, in the gym at the University of Oklahoma, where he's been an assistant coach for four years.

Alisha spent much of the time since Guard's appointment to the Olympic team in mid-July trying to help Wayne and Carol make hasty travel arrangements to Greece for the three of them and four of his siblings. Wayne says he thinks they have a house lined up.

Guard and the former Alisha Tolman are parents of Tyler, born in February 2003 with Wayne, the obstetrician, offering advice over the phone.

Guard trusts his father's advice on the baby and gymnastics, "but when I don't want to hear what he has to say, I tell him," he says, laughing.

A sore Achilles made it iffy that Young would even qualify for last month's trials. He withdrew from the national championships that act as a qualifier and had to petition his way in to Anaheim.

The Achilles still bothers him, but in some ways, it makes training more like a meet. He only does a few practice routines each day, so they have to be good, just like in meets, he said.

Because of the injury, petition and selection-committee process, Wayne was skeptical about Guard's chances for Athens. "I didn't anticipate Guard making the team. He's good enough, but there's so much politics," he said. Men who train at the U.S. camp seem to get more respect than male gymnasts who go to college. "He put school, his wife and family above gymnastics," said Wayne, noting that those will all be there after his performing career is done.

"Had I not made the Olympics, I would have felt just as satisfied," says Guard, but now he has a little more to be satisfied about.

And to cope with. "It's not easy. It takes a lot to find that balance," he says. "I have a great wife and a great coach that have allowed me to do what I do."

She says they've been able to "live comfortably" with his job and some help from the gymnastics organization. "We're grateful for what we've gotten," she says.

He's already part of the post-Olympic T.J. Maxx tour of champions, and Guard says that's almost better than the Olympics. It pays, for one thing. "That helps a lot, especially when you've sacrificed so much," says Guard, who went on the 2003 Maxx tour after the world championships.

"It was one of the funnest things I've ever done in gymnastics," he said. "It's so much fun. You get to interact with the crowd and get to sign autographs."

And relax and perform just for the fans, which in turn helps him in competition. He has become a showman. "I think so," he says. "I'm kind of quiet in person, but in competition, I can step out of myself more now because I enjoy it."

What could be more enjoyable than performing in the Olympics in front of your father, the Olympian? "I think it will sink in more once I get back," says Guard about bringing his family full-circle.


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