ST. LOUIS — The long months of rehabilitation and hours of training will pay off for Jason Gatson someday.
It just won't be this year.
Gatson, who was leading last year's nationals until he blew out his knee on his high bar dismount, missed the cutoff for the Olympic trials by four spots Friday night, finishing 18th at the U.S. Gymnastics Nationals.
The top 14 advanced to next month's Olympic trials in Boston.
"My heart bleeds for Jason," John Roethlisberger said. "He's the ultimate talent and I hope he bounces back and wins this thing next year."
At just 19, Gatson was on the verge of winning the national title last year. But as he landed off the high bar, he heard a "pop," his right knee buckled and he crumpled to the floor.
He tore three ligaments in his knee as well as the meniscus. It was six months before he could even return to the gym, and he arrived in St. Louis still trying to get some of his skills back.
His meet was a disaster. He fell off the pommel horse, crashed on the parallel bars and touched his hands down on the floor exercise during the preliminaries.
On Friday night, he flew forward on the landing of his vault, his legs spread wide, and he needed to put his hands down to stop himself. He couldn't hold a one-handed move on the parallel bars and ended up sitting on one of the bars. A few moments later, he overswung and fell off the bars.
He had only two scores over 9 in the meet. Ironically, both came on the high bar.
"He's going to go away for a while and regroup," said his coach, Ron Brant. "He's going to wait until everything's healed."
Gatson is considered one of America's brightest hopes for the future, and it's unlikely his poor finish will cost him his spot on the national team. The top nine from nationals and trials make the team, but there are three "at-large" picks and he'll probably get one of those.
That was little consolation Friday night. He walked off the floor despondent, and former Olympian John Macready put his arm around Gatson's shoulder, trying to console him.
"Yes and no," Brant said when asked if being at nationals was good for Gatson. "It's either going to inspire him or tear him apart."