Part of an occasional series of unpublished interviews from 2012.
ST. LOUIS — “I’ve got a pretty gnarly scar,” Jonathan Horton says, pulling up the gray sock covering his left foot. Some grooves appear under his skin when he flexes. “It looks like laces on a football.” And yes, it really does.
“You can feel the screws,” Horton adds, proffering the foot. So we do. It’s eerie to feel skin covering something that’s not bone. Initially, there were two screws holding Horton’s ligament together and clamping his bones together, though one was recently removed. “They were worried I was going to break it on impact,” he says. There’s a pause as the reporters all take that into account.
The ligament-tearing, tendon-bending injury happened at the 2011 Worlds, when Horton landed short on a Dragulescu vault. He has not given up vaulting, and is certainly not going to let a little thing like a foot injury keep him off a second Olympic team. He has completed the normal nine month recovery in six months, in time to push for London.
Horton maintains that injuries and falls are just part of the sport. He’s been in gymnastics almost all his life, and has partaken in his fair share of both.
What the scariest? one reporter asks. “It was at an exhibition in Las Vegas in 2007,” Horton says. “I landed face first on the bar and my nose was like — over here. It didn’t really hurt, but it stood up and [blood] was just like pouring out, and I was like, ‘uh, I should probably sit back down.’ Google ‘Jonathan Horton high bar crash.’ Some jerk put it to ‘Rocky’ music. It’s like, “Eye of the Tiger” and you see me and splat! [he makes a noise that you’d imagine sounds like someone’s face hitting a high bar at high velocity] — it’s hilarious.”
What’s the gruesome thing he’s seen in gymnastics?
“The worst thing ever was Chris Brooks’s arm. When he was 17, he did a Kovacs on high bar. And he grabbed the bar — and what happens to us sometimes in gymnastics is if the grips get too long, the leather here will catch here [he motions to the end of his hand] and it locked. So he grabbed the bar, and his hand stayed but he kept going around.”
That broke Brooks’s arm in two places, and worst of all is that he couldn’t let go of the bar because the grip was caught. “He had to have two plates with lots of screws in each plate. That’s the most gruesome thing I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s a dangerous sport, and unfortunately there are things we can’t control that happen,” Horton adds. “But a lot of things can be controlled with the right mindset. You have to really be disciplined. You’ve got to focus on what you’re doing. If you get lazy, if you get tentative, that’s when the injuries happen.”
And the Kovacs skill? “He’s got a great one, but he doesn’t use it anymore because of what it did to him,” Horton says.
At least, I told him, when you and Brooks are old and gray and comparing scars, Horton will have one he can point to (Brooks, of course, already has several.) “Chicks dig scars, right?” he jokes.
Other unpublished interviews in this series: Kohei Uchimura (London)
The Gymnastics Examiner | Facebook | Twitter