Peter Vidmar can tell you exactly what it feels like to be the Olympic all-around champion.
Going into his final event at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the then-23-year-old Vidmar thought he knew what he needed on the parallel bars to lock up the gold medal over Japan's Koji Gushiken. When the American landed his dismount and saw "9.9" flash on the scoreboard, he believed he had done it.
For a few seconds, anyway.
"I saw the score, did my math wrong, looked at my coach to start to celebrate and I could see it in his eyes," Vidmar, now 51, recalled recently from his home in California. "He did not have the look in his eyes of a guy whose kid just won the Olympic all-around gold medal. He had the look of almost."
Vidmar's calculations had been a half-tenth off. "It probably doesn't speak too highly of an economics major from UCLA, does it?" he said, laughing.
Though he didn't win the most prestigious individual prize in gymnastics, Vidmar has plenty to smile about after taking home the silver medal. The blond-haired, blue-eyed gymnast was the star of the American men's team that upset world-champion China for the team gold in Los Angeles and grabbed a second gold on pommel horse in the individual event finals.
Vidmar's passion for gymnastics was inherited from his father, John, who hung out at Muscle Beach as a teenager and learned gymnastics among future fitness gurus Jack LaLanne and Joe Gold. At 29, John contracted polio, which severely compromised his left leg and several of the muscles in his body. He never did another back flip, but John Vidmar retained his love of the sport and the Olympics, which he and young Peter would watch together, glued to the TV set.
Shortly after the 1972 Munich Games, an advertisement ran in the local Culver City newspaper seeking "Future Olympic Champions" in gymnastics. Makoto Sakamoto, who competed for the U.S. team in 1964 and 1972, was starting a program three miles from where the Vidmars lived. Because of his father's illness, Peter Vidmar appreciated his abilities.
"My dad never complained about what everybody else called a handicap," Vidmar said. "Always a smile on his face, always a great attitude, and I had to go home to that guy every night. If I had had a bad workout, I couldn't complain to him about that, because look what he's had to deal with his whole life."
From atop the medal podium in Los Angeles after the U.S. men's victory, Vidmar looked out to the Pauley Pavilion crowd, thought of his family in the stands and saw all the USA Gymnastics officials and realized they were crying.
"And I realized that they [were] sharing in that victory with us, and they had a part in it as well," he said. "And I was just overwhelmed with gratitude."
After the Olympics, the chairman of the board at Byron Jackson Pumps (later Borg Warner Industrial) called longtime employee John Vidmar and asked if his son might like to come and give a speech at the company's corporate meeting.
"He calls me and says, 'Son, do you want to go to our meeting?' And I said, 'Why? Where?'" Vidmar recalled. "And he said, 'It's in Bermuda.' And I said, 'We'll be there!'" The initial speaking engagement led to others, and they were a way for Vidmar to earn extra money for graduate school before he became a full-time motivational speaker.
In his speeches, Vidmar emphasizes risk, originality and virtuosity, the facets of gymnastics that set apart the very best. "I use my sport as a metaphor for life and business," he said. He and his wife Donna have five children, all of whom have been involved in gymnastics on some level. One of his sons reached the Junior National Championships and daughter Emily will compete for Brigham Young University beginning this fall.
Vidmar's schedule has allowed time for some charity work, and he serves as chairman of USA Gymnastics' board of directors. He was appointed Chef de Mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, but resigned when it became known he had participated in anti-gay marriage demonstrations. Vidmar, who is Mormon, said he never tried to hide his beliefs, and noted in the press that "no one has ever accused me of insensitivity."
Vidmar recently completed his first Ironman Triathlon, accompanying his oldest son, Tim, who is named after his 1984 teammate, NBC commentator Tim Daggett. (Daggett reciprocated by naming his oldest son Peter.) "That was probably the hardest thing I've ever done," Vidmar said of the Ironman. "It was brutal. But I finished and that was very satisfying, and I think I want to do another one."
He hasn't completely left gymnastics behind, though. "I still perform on a pommel horse during my presentations," he said. "I can't do what's being done now, but I can do most of the skills I was doing in 1984. The only thing is, so can most 15-year-olds.
"I hope to be able to do double-leg circles on a pommel horse until my very last days."