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Whether or not he reaches Olympics, Bhavsar in the right place

PHILADEPLHIA -- Before taking the stage on his second-to-last event Saturday, the parallel bars, Raj Bhavsar stopped, sat down and stared at the floor.

He was counting the hairs on the carpet. Taking off the pressure. Collecting himself.

Bhavsar was 10 strong routines into the men's gymnastics U.S. Olympic trials with only the bars and floor to go on the second and final day of competition. He had been in this situation before, only under very different circumstances.

Four years ago, Bhavsar finished the Olympic trials with dubiety about his chances of making it to Athens, and was devastated when he was chosen only as an alternate to the 2004 team. Saturday, he was sitting comfortably near the top of the leaderboard, in prime position to be selected for the 2008 Olympic squad if he could pull out two more powerhouse performances to seal a spot in the top three.

Bhavsar rounded out Day 2 of the trials with two more solid routines to finish in third place in the all-around. His performance also put him in third place in the weighted results that combine the athletes' scores from both days of the trials with the two-day results of May's national championships. Bhavsar's weighted all-around score was only eight-hundredths of a point behind second-place finisher Joseph Hagerty.

"In '04 … after I finished the trials, there was still an uncertainty in my emotion," said Bhavsar, who hit 12 of 12 routines over the two days at the Wachovia Center. "My happiness depended on whether or not I was going to make the team. This time, that's not the case. I'm ecstatic. … I really gotta pat myself on the back. We're just under so much pressure."

Much of the way Bhavsar approached these trials can be attributed to the lessons he learned from his experiences in 2004. After traveling with the Olympic team to Athens but ultimately watching from the stands as his teammates won a silver medal without his help, Bhavsar lost the motivation he'd had for the sport he began at age 3. The former Buckeye who helped Ohio State win the 2001 national title no longer had a passion for gymnastics.

It took nearly three years, but after failing to make the 2007 national team, Bhavsar made a conscious overhaul that changed not only his approach to gymnastics, but also his life as a whole.

Using everything from "The Success Principles," by Jack Canfield, co-author of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, to Bikram yoga and meditation, Bhavsar stopped identifying gymnastics with who he was and instead simply equated it to something he did.

"Rather than thinking I knew everything or I knew the process and steps into being successful in life, I made myself a student of life," Bhavsar said, "and I kind of just opened my mind to some of the masters and allowed them to teach me what success is really all about.

"And by God, all that work just paid off tonight."

The fruits of his labor have been unequivocal this year. Bhavsar took second at the Winter Cup Challenge in February and fifth all-around at nationals last month.

On Saturday, Bhavsar further proved his methods for success. When he was staring at the floor before his parallel bars routine, he was using "a technique to bring present awareness back."

It worked.

Bhavsar took first place in the discipline with a score of 15.700, third on rings with a 15.600 and fifth on the vault with a 15.950. (Any mark between 15.000 and 16.000 under the new scoring system is a good one.) He finished sixth on pommel horse, tied for seventh on floor and took eighth on the high bar. Bhavsar's third-place standing overall put him in the best position possible to show the selection committee how much he believes he deserves a spot on this year's Olympic team.

The committee, however, has a heavy task at hand. Hoping to have at least the six members of the team set to be announced by the start of the women's final day of competition Sunday -- if not the complete team with up to three alternates -- the committee has to make a strategic selection of athletes who compete in the all-around and others who specialize in three or four events.

While Bhavsar clearly stood out as a dominant player this week, it's a veridical possibility he might once again not be named to the team. Kevin Tan, who competed in four events, took the top spot on the rings Saturday, and Sean Golden, who competed in only three events, finished first on floor and vault.

Where that leaves Bhavsar, only time will tell. But if he no longer worries about how he's going to do in this sport, then whether or not he makes the Olympic team as a true member -- or even at all -- doesn't make a difference to him, right?

Well, sort of.

"Either way, I will be fine. I'm Raj," said Bhavsar, who said there was nothing more he could've done in these trials to further satisfy him with his performance. "There's no medal around my neck or no award I can be given that can change me or supersede who I am. What defines me as a person is a little bit more than, I think, an Olympic team, and winning medals and all that other kind of stuff.

"I'm not downplaying it; I want to make this team. I'll tell you that here and now. I want to make this team. And I did my job. What more can I possibly do?"

Disappointment, he said, will surely settle in if his name is not called on Sunday.

"We all go through disappointment when we don't get the things we want," he said. "But devastation? No, no. A dream shattered? Absolutely not."

It turns out the only accomplishment Bhavsar wanted this week was to go out on there, "rock out" his routines and have fun doing it. He said that's a dream he just lived out.

Namasté, Raj.

Alisha Ricardi is an editor for ESPN.com.