Kevin Tan, an image of focus, executes his routine on the rings during competition yesterday at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
BEIJING - Kevin Tan was losing it. He was in the middle of his pommel horse routine near the end of the Olympic gymnastics men's team final yesterday.
"At that point, I was thinking, 'Stay on, stay to the end and fight for every 10th' " of a point, Tan said.
"I didn't back down."
If he had blown it and the Americans missed getting a medal, the team still would have been celebrated as heroic for making it as far as it did - even just for making it to the team final - considering brothers Paul and Morgan Hamm, the familiar faces of their squad, were out with injuries.
But there was no way Tan was going to let that happen .
And that's why it was only a matter of minutes before he was wearing a bronze medal he said would be "clenched in my hands" all night long last night.
The former Penn State gymnast and now Nittany Lions assistant coach finished on the horse. He got the worst score of the day, 12.775. But it was enough to help the Americans hold off Germany to finish third.
Host China won its first team gold with a combined score of 286.125. Japan, the 2004 gold medal winner, took the silver at 278.875. The United States, at 275.850, edged Germany, 274.600.
"We really were the underdogs," said Jonathan Horton, who paced the Americans in the absence of Paul [hand] and Morgan [ankle] Hamm. "I understand when two of the best gymnasts in the world drop out that people say that."
Paul Hamm, the 2004 all-round gold medalist, and his brother would have brought a ton of Olympic and international experience.
Horton, 22 , had the top score among the Americans in four of his five events.
"Unbelievable is the word I'll use for Jonathan," team coach Kevin Mazeika said. "He stuck every landing. Like a veteran out there. It was just phenomenal."
Tan, who won back-to-back NCAA championships in his specialty, the rings, had what for him was a mediocre turn on that event, the first of the meet for the U.S., scoring a 15.435. Then he turned into a cheerleader for his teammates for nearly two hours before taking on the pommel horse.
In the meantime, the Americans remained in contention not only for a medal but also for a gold for the first few rotations.
Their inexperience on floor exercise and pommel horse, their final two events, allowed Japan to overtake them for silver.
Heading into the pommel with Japan on the horizontal bar for the final rotation, the U.S. was an essentially insurmountable 9.200 points behind China and 1.500 points ahead of Japan.
Tan, 26, the team captain, was first on the pommel horse, starting slowly, getting bogged down to the point of nearly sitting on it toward the middle but recovering enough to finish.
"My day didn't go as well as I hoped," Tan said. "I was focused. I fought as hard as I could. I believe I left it all out there, heart and soul."
Raj Shavsar followed on the horse with a 13.750. Alexander Artemev, who hadn't competed on the first five apparatuses, knew it was close and notched a 15.350.
"It's absolutely amazing. Absolutely awesome," Tan said of the experience, including the injury problems. Morgan Hamm didn't pull out until after he got to Beijing.
"It's been a roller coaster ride, that's for sure."
Tan competes internationally under the name Kai Wen Tan, his Chinese name. His father, Peter, is from this country, and Tan embraces the coincidence that his Olympic medal experience came here.
"It's fantastic knowing that this is my heritage, and being able to share that with my family in China is amazing," he said.
Tan knows he will take that medal back to University Park - "Thanks for all the support. Love you guys," he wanted to tell those at Penn State - but he's not sure beyond that.
"I've been so focused on this that I haven't really given it a thought," he said. "It's not just whether I'll still be in gymnastics or not, but what am I going to do with the next step in my life?"
Whatever it is, it might be tough to top winning an Olympic medal.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Shelly Anderson is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.