The Young Legacy
Two gymnasts’ journey from BYU to the Olympics
Written by Natalie Orr. Artwork and photography by Hannah Miner.
Scratching the 1976 Olympic Games off his bucket list, a future BYU Hall of Fame gymnast loaded up his family into their car and headed east to Oklahoma. He was done with gymnastics. He had a new dream: medicine. In the car with him that day was his son, Guard. The new life in Oklahoma would eventually set the boy on an Olympic journey of his own.
The 1974 cover of Gymnast Magazine featured the headline “Wayne Young – USA’s Best,” but when Wayne stepped onto the BYU campus as a freshman in 1970, he had almost no experience in the sport of gymnastics. A Provo High school alumnus with no access to a gymnastics team, Wayne took to wrestling and diving. After graduation, the Utah native originally attended BYU on a diving scholarship.
However, the desire to pursue gymnastics nagged at the freshman. He eventually approached former head gymnastics coach Bruce Morgenegg and asked if he could join the team. Wayne’s natural talent helped him walk onto the team that year where he competed on vault, floor and parallel bars.
“I did both for a little while, but ended up solely focusing on gymnastics,” Wayne said. “It was too difficult to do both and gymnastics is a fun sport. It’s fun to flip and twist.”
The All-State diver abandoned his scholarship and traded it in for gymnastics, hoping to one day to compete in the all-around.
Wayne spent the following summer training in Southern California. He arrived on campus in 1971 with a new skillset that would usher in his all-around career as a sophomore.
OFF TO JAPAN
His desire to improve further led to a life-changing decision. Prior to his junior year, Wayne took a chance and moved to Japan for eight months to train with the country’s highly successful gymnasts.
This decision punched his ticket to the BYU Hall of Fame.
Wayne made this decision based on the fact that the Japanese won gold in gymnastics at the Olympic Games in 1960, 1964 and 1970.
“At the time, the Japanese dominated gymnastics,” Wayne said. “China wasn’t in the mix yet. My folks were very supportive so I took a couple of language classes and off I went, with my broken Japanese.”
During his eight-month stay, Wayne saw a notable difference in training. On a typical day in Utah, he would arrive at the gym, work on his routines sporadically and call it a day. There was no strict regimen that he followed.
The Japanese, he learned, trained “backwards.” If a competition was six months in the future, Japanese gymnasts trained each day leading up to the event, based on skills they would need.
“They don’t just randomly train,” Wayne said. “They put together an entire training program backward. When they’re in the gym, they know exactly what they are going to do every single day. They don’t waste their time training on things that don’t fit in their training plan. Endurance-type athletes, like long-distance runners, train the exact same way. They determine how they want to taper their miles. They don’t lose focus.”
BACK TO THE UNITED STATES
The experience forever impacted Wayne’s training approach and eventually his coaching. By the end of his junior year, he earned a spot on the United States team and qualified for the World Championships in Yugoslavia.
The next season, in Wayne’s final year at BYU, he captured the NCAA all-around title in Terre Haute, Indiana, and was voted an NCAA All-American. In just three years, he went from a walk-on to becoming BYU’s first gymnastics All-American.
Wayne earned a spot on the U.S. national team and went on to compete in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. He placed 12th: the highest finish of any U.S. gymnast in 40 years.
“You don’t really understand the impact of what you’ve done when you’re in the moment,” Wayne said. “You’ve accomplished something that you’ve been training for for so long. In the moment, you’re there and you have a job to do. When you get back, you get all the accolades and invitations. That’s when it starts to hit you and you realize that you’re being rewarded for reaching your goals.”
The next year, Wayne faced a tough decision: begin a coaching career or start training for the 1980 Olympic Games. Initially, Wayne continued to train, but a few obstacles stood in the way.
“I was one of the older athletes and I had some shoulder injuries,” Wayne said. “Professional gymnasts were not a thing at the time and we didn’t get paid to do this. I was the old married man with kids, so I had to move on.”
Ultimately, he decided on coaching and took a head coaching position at Odessa College in Texas.
“It was spur of the moment,” Wayne said. “I got the job on a Thursday and was moving there that Monday. There weren’t a lot of college head coach positions for men’s gymnastics – I felt pretty lucky. I was unsure at the time, but it was worthwhile because that was the stair step to coaching at BYU.”
Looking back, Wayne knows he made the right choice. In 1980, 65 nations refused to compete in the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
“In hindsight, it was worthwhile because the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games,” Wayne said. “I would’ve trained for four years and ended up on a boycotted team. I don’t regret that I moved on to that head coaching position.”
After two years in Texas, he took the head coaching job at BYU. He led the Cougar program until 1987 when he retired and was inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame.
ON TO MEDICAL SCHOOL
Next up on his list of dreams: medical school.
Wayne attended medical school at the University of Utah, and in 1989 moved his family to Oklahoma for residency. Guard, his 12-year-old son, was showing interest in gymnastics and Wayne wanted to be near good development programs. This played a major role when considering the move.
“When I was going to do my residency, one of the criteria was that they needed to have a reasonably good men’s and women’s gymnastics program in the same city,” Wayne said. “I only interviewed at schools that had that.”
In Oklahoma, Guard worked with one of the best coaches in the nation: Mark Williams. At the time, Williams worked as the assistant coach of the men’s gymnastics team at the University of Oklahoma. Today, he is the head coach of the Sooners, with nine national titles under his belt.
“I graduated high school and I had a hard decision to make,” Guard said. “Do I stay with him and go to OU? Or do I go to BYU? I ended up choosing BYU, mainly for the environment and everything it had to offer me spiritually.”
OFF TO BYU
Arriving at BYU in 1996, Guard was the No. 1 ranked recruit. As a Cougar, he collected impressive accolades, earning eight All-American honors and becoming a two-time NCAA National Champion on vault.
Unfortunately, by the end of his junior year in 2000, BYU made the decision to cut the men’s gymnastics program due to scheduling issues related to Title IX. That would be his final chance to win the NCAA Gymnastics Championships. In the end, Guard was the all-around runner-up.
“I remember losing the NCAA championships and I was the favorite to win,” Guard said. “A great kid came in and flat out beat me. I remember I was hurting and my dad came up to me and immediately wanted to talk shop about things I needed to improve on. I just looked at him and said, ‘right now, I need a dad.’”
With his collegiate career behind him, Guard traveled to Boston in hopes of securing a spot on the Olympic team. However, a 10th-place finish at the trials would put him out of reach of his goal.
“That’s when I had some tough decisions to make,” Guard said. “I was 23. I had just got married, BYU had just dropped the men’s team so I didn’t have a ‘home.’ I didn’t have a place to train. I didn’t have a coach.”
As fate would have it, Williams would be promoted to head coach at Oklahoma that year.
“He called me up and wanted me to be his graduate assistant and help coach while I trained for the next Olympics in 2004,” Guard said. “It just sounded fun. My wife and I rented the smallest U-Haul that you could possibly rent, filled it full of hand-me-downs and drove to Oklahoma. We didn’t even have an apartment when we got there.”
Those next four years took a toll on Guard, both mentally and physically. Not only would he coach these athletes in Oklahoma, but he would be their competitor.
“Mentally, the first year, I really struggled adapting to the new roles,” Young said. “I really thank Mark Willams for not quitting on me and not letting me quit on myself. I’ve shared that lesson with a lot of athletes that I have trained. You can’t see four years away. That’s too long. But four months? You can do four months. Four weeks? You can do four weeks. That is how I got through 2000-2004.”
But Guard questioned if it was worth it.
“After every Olympics, they go through a rule changing process and I wasn’t one who was quick to adapt to the new rules,” Guard said. “It took me a while to learn things to add to my routines. I was really struggling and I just about hung it up. Mark told me to stick it out for three months until the U.S. Championships. Off we went and there, I ended up making the world championship team.”
After pushing through the training, the 2001 World Gymnastics Championships approached. Guard and his five other teammates prepared for the competition in Belgium, set for October. However, another obstacle stood in front of his success.
“The U.S championships finished in August,” Guard said. “Early September, 9/11 happened. It was up in the air if we were even going to go. I remember training and preparing and not knowing if it was going to happen. We got the phone call and the next day, we were flying to Belgium to compete.”
In Belgium, Guard made his international debut, helping the team win the silver medal.
“It just took off from there,” Guard said. “I was the outlier. I was always that No. 8, No. 9, No. 10 guy on the USA team. That year, Mark helped me jump into that No. 6 spot.”
PREPARING FOR ATHENS
In 2003, just a year before the Olympic Games in Athens, the World Championships took place in Anaheim, California, and Guard attended as an alternate, missing the team by one spot.
“It’s a hard role to fill because you go with the team, train with them and then go sit in the stands,” Guard said. “I remember watching a gymnastics meet for the first time, not as a coach or as a competitor. At that moment, I thought, ‘what do I need to do to help team USA?’ From that experience, I went into that final year of training with a new outlook and approach every day in the gym. I believe to this day that that moment was the difference.”
Guard was 27 at the time, which was old for an Olympic gymnast, and his Achilles constantly reminded him of that fact.
“It was one of those things that I was so close to the end that I could see the light, but I couldn’t take any time off,” Guard said. “You couldn’t rest. There is no medication they could give you. There is no surgery they could give you. I would tape my ankles a certain way to build myself an artificial achilles. I had a deal with my coach. I could only do three floor routines a week. That is all my body would allow me to do, but that’s not a lot of floor routines. My promise to him was that my routine would be perfect every time, and it was.”
A year later, in the same arena where he sat as an alternate, Guard battled for a spot on the U.S. team at the Olympic Trials. From the Olympic trials, six team members are chosen, along with two alternates. Two days in, the committee named four members. Guard was not on the list.
With two spots up for grabs, the remainder of the competitors headed to Colorado Springs to participate in a camp. There, they would compete for the final roster spots.
“I was one out of seven competing for those two spots,” Guard said. “We had to go back to the gym and refocus and re-energize. I walked into that camp and no one had me on their short list for making this team. After the camp was over, everyone had me on their list and I made the team.”
Wayne was there to witness his son make the team.
“The camp was grueling,” Guard said. “I remember sticking a double-back pike dismount off the parallel bars. I stuck it cold. I remember looking up and the first person I saw was my father.”
Fortunately, his Achilles held out after the trials and his hard work paid off. He finally reached his goal of becoming an Olympian. In 2004, Guard helped lead the U.S. to the podium.
“I remember going into the team finals and we were starting on floor and I was the lead off,” Guard said. “I remember marching out there with my team, climbing up the steps to the podium, walking to the corner of the floor and raising my hand to salute. Everything went quiet and I did one of the best floor routines of my life. It was such an important start to our meet.”
The U.S. team won the silver medal: the best U.S. finish since 1984. The country that came in first? Japan, whose training secrets heavily influenced the Young family legacy.
“We didn’t care what color of medal it was,” Guard said. “When you’re standing up there getting an Olympic medal with your teammates, all you’re thinking about is everyone that helped you get to this point in your life. My dad went back to medical school and yet he still provided gymnastics for us. We had gym owners who would say, ‘don’t worry about paying us, just pay us what you can.’ That’s what you think about when you’re up there.”
Coming back to Oklahoma on a high, Guard felt as though he went through a “mini mid-life crisis.” In 2005, he experimented with something new. “You’re 27 and you’ve sacrificed everything for that one opportunity and now you think, ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ I had the great opportunity to move to California to be close to my wife’s family and I started coaching high school kids.”
This is where he solidified his coaching style, pulling inspiration from those in his life. Reflecting on his career, Guard pinpointed the styles of Wayne and Williams.
“Mark Williams really is my mentor,” Guard said. “He has had a tremendous amount of success and I was fortunate enough that at 13-years-old that he started coaching me. He really pushes fitness and conditioning. I learned from him the power of a team. Yes, its individual, but what that individual does, affects the team.”
On the other hand, when Guard originally left Williams in 1996 for BYU, he found comfort in the experience of his father.
“I came to BYU and I struggled with the different coaching styles,” Guard said. “My dad sat me down and helped me write training plans. He helped me understand its importance. The more successful you are with your plan, the more successful you are with your results. I’m implementing both styles to make my own style.”
In 2010, his accomplishments lead to his induction into the BYU Hall of Fame. In 2011, Guard became an assistant coach at Oklahoma, alongside his mentor. In 2015, the Sooners won the NCAA National Team Championship.
After that win, Guard started his new chapter: head coach for the BYU women’s gymnastics team.
Under his reign since 2015, BYU continues to jump in the rankings, sitting at No. 11 nationally during the 2021 season. For two consecutive years, the team captured the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference championship title. A step further, the program is producing scores as high as 197.300. These scores and rankings haven’t been seen among the team since 2004.
Wayne finds joy in watching his son carry on the family’s legacy of BYU gymnastics.
“BYU has been a great move for him,” Wayne said. “He’s like a kid at a candy store. He loves what he does. He loves the girls. He’s running a great program. He backward plans. He knows exactly what the girls are going to do every single day of training. From the start of practice to the final minute of practice. He keeps meticulous records of what they do and where they are at. He can modify his next year based on that. He spends almost every waking moment coaching, planning or recruiting.”
Wayne and Guard maintain a close relationship and it’s no surprise that gymnastics remains at the center of their conversations.
“It drives my wife and my mom crazy because that’s all my dad and I talk about,” Guard said.