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Alexander Zemlianichenko, Associated Press
U.S. gymnastics team members celebrate silver medals Monday \\\\— Brett McClure, left, Morgan Hamm, Paul Hamm, Jason Gatson, Blaine Wilson and Guard Young.

ATHENS — In a gymnasium appropriately only half full, Guard Young finally felt the pleasant weight of an Olympic medal hanging around his neck.

Young is a gymnast, a male gymnast at that — not the most heralded of sports in the universe. For the past 17 years he has been working at his chosen sport in relative anonymity, doing it for the chase, not for the riches and the glory. He has run into dead-ends, setbacks and disappointments, but the successes have somehow always snatched redemption from the jaws of rejection. Just as they did last night when Young teamed with Blaine Wilson, Jason Gatson, Brett McClure and the Hamm twins, Morgan and Paul, to claim the silver medal for the United States in the men's gymnastics team competition at the Athens Olympics. Japan won the gold and Romania the bronze.

"After I got the medal, I took some time on the stand and thought back on my life and all I've gone through," said Young, who got started in gymnastics when he was 10 years old living in Salt Lake City. "It hasn't been easy. But I'm glad I did it."

It's an old story, but one that never gets old. For all their largesse, controversy and contradictions, the Olympics at their best still come down to this: a place where boyhood goals and dreams are realized in adulthood — and dedication and hard work are paid off in full.

"After my wife and my child," said the 27-year-old Young, looking down at his medal, "this is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

He dedicated his triumph to his father, Wayne Young, who captained the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team in Montreal in 1976, 11 years before Guard was born. "I owe this to my dad," he said. "He never pushed me to follow in his footsteps, but he gave me every opportunity if I wanted to."

When Guard Young began training as a gymnast with Chris Leach All-American Gymnastics in Salt Lake City, he said he hung a poster of his father on one side of his bedroom. On the other side he hung a poster of Peter Vidmar, the gymnast who led the way to a first-ever men's team gold medal for the United States at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

"I've never taken them down," he said. "I grew up wanting to be them."

Both Wayne Young and Peter Vidmar were in the stands Monday night.

"I'm so nervous I don't know what to do," said Wayne Young before the competition. "I think they have a good chance to medal, but in this sport, you never know. You have to hang in there."

Perseverance is something of a Young family trait. Wayne Young didn't even get started as a gymnast until he was a freshman at BYU. He was a diver at Provo High School and only dabbled in gymnastics by hanging around the gym at BYU.

But he took to the sport, and the sport took to him, and before he knew it he was on the BYU gymnastics team. Determined to get better, between his sophomore and junior years of college he paid his way to Japan for a six-month crash course to train with some of the world's best gymnastics teachers.

By his senior year in 1975, he won the NCAA all-around championship.

The next year, he was captain of the U.S. team at the Olympic Games, where he finished 13th in the all-around. Not bad for a person who had only been in the sport four years.

Young came back to BYU as the head gymnastics coach, a position he held until he decided he wanted to realize yet another goal of becoming a medical doctor. In 1987, he was accepted at the University of Utah Medical School, and he moved his wife, Carol, and their six children from Provo to Salt Lake City, where Guard started gymnastics.

When Wayne Young later moved on to a residency in Oklahoma, he made sure the area where the family was moving had a strong gymnastics program.

"We put all the kids in gymnastics in Oklahoma," said Wayne, who now has a practice as an obstetrician in Orem. "It was an easy car pool. They all didn't stay with it, and that was fine. We've told all our children to choose something to put their energy into and do what they need to do to be successful. It keeps them out of trouble and builds self-esteem."

Guard and his sister Jessica, who competed for the BYU women's team, are the two who stuck with gymnastics. Others have branched out into tennis, skating, cheerleading and golf.

Guard Young also competed for BYU, but his four years in Provo were bittersweet after the school announced at the end of his junior year that it would disband the men's gymnastics team after one more season. The budget cut got in the way of his plan to redshirt the 2000 year to prepare for the U.S. Olympic Trials in hopes of making the team that went to the Sydney Games.

After placing second in the NCAA all-around as a senior, he questioned whether he could continue to sacrifice for his sport and keep aiming for the Olympics.

But his longtime coach in Oklahoma, Mark Williams, encouraged him to keep training and offered to keep him on staff as an assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma.

Fast forward four years to what happened Monday night in Greece and you have an overnight sensation 17 years in the making — a product of a defunct BYU gymnastics program wearing an Olympic medal.

"It just feels so good to be in this position," said Young as he walked off the medals podium with an olive wreath on his head. He deflected any questions about his future in his sport. "I'm not thinking about that tonight," he said. "I want to live in the moment for a while."

Lee Benson is in Athens to report on the 2004 Summer Games for Deseret Morning News readers. This is his ninth assignment to cover the Olympics. Please send e-mail to [email protected].