Hayden's relative success against such daunting competition may have something to do with his background, which in some ways approximates that of his Soviet rivals. His dedication, despite serious back injuries dating back to 1981, is unquestioned. Like the Soviets, he benefited from continuity of training, working since 1980 with Yoichi Tomita in Tucson at one of the U.S.'s few all-male gymnastics centers. In the face of threatened NCAA cutbacks in the amount of time athletes will be allowed to train and with the wavering commitment to compulsories in college gymnastics, Hayden has left Arizona State to focus on gymnastics.
But most important, Hayden, like Johnson and Ginsberg, has routines that compare in difficulty with those of the Soviets. In a high bar routine that had Arkaev's total attention, Hayden executed a double overcatch (a "Kovacs," so called after the gymnast who first executed it) and a full-twisting double layout dismount over the bar (perhaps soon to be called a Hayden, because he's the only one who does it) for a 9.90. "The key is to always improve in difficulty," Jacki says. "That's where the Soviets always have the advantage."
But there are other areas in which the Soviets have the edge as well. The U.S. system can't guarantee the participation of athletes like Hayden, nor can it carefully groom their successors. Tomita believes that the U.S. naturally spawns far more men's gymnasts than any other country but that, because of the number of distractions and alternative opportunities in this country, concentration, cohesion and coaching regimens are often disrupted.
"Every 10 or 20 years here you get a team like the one in '84," Tomita says. "Those are exceptions. A national program cannot depend on exceptions."