MONTREAL — United States men won't be repeating their Olympic gold medal victory at the 1985 World Gymnastics Championships. In fact, they don't even expect to win a team bronze medal in the biannual competition that opens in Montreal Nov. 2.
"Realistically, if we place fifth, it'll be a good finish for this team," said men's national coach Abie Grossfeld, a former Olympian who also coached the United States' gold-medal triumph over the Chinese at the Los Angeles Summer Games.
The reasons for Grossfeld's lowered expectations are threefold:
First, the gymnastically powerful Soviet bloc nations, who boycotted the 1984 Olympics, are among the 40 countries participating in the weeklong competition in the Olympic Velodrome;
Second, only two veterans -- Tim Daggett, bronze medalist on the horse, and Scott Johnson -- return from the Olympic squad to anchor what is a talented, but young and relatively inexperienced U.S. team.
Three, the United States drew an unfortunate number in the order of competition. The Americans will be in the middle of three segments of compulsory-exercise competition, while three of their top five competitors -- the Russians, East Germans and Japanese -- compete in the night session. Gymnastics judges tend to give lower scores early in the day in order to leave room to grade higher any better performances later in the day.
"We think the Russians are a little beyond us," Grossfeld said during a telephone interview from the team's East Stroudsburg, Pa. training camp. "The East Germans and the North Koreans are the teams we consider our chief competition, and it's going to be hard to beat them with their going six hours after us. It's going to be tough."
But it could be worse.
"The Chinese got cheated again," Grossfeld said of the team the Americans edged for the Olympic gold. "They're going in the morning session. So are the Canadians, who think they can beat us. I don't think so, but who knows? Maybe they can, they're in their home country."
Grossfeld is'nt disturbed by the challenge he and the new national team face. He expected the retirements of Olympic stars Peter Vidmar, Mitch Gaylor, Bart Conner and Jim Hartung.
"I think we have a talented team in terms of good athletes," Grossfeld said. "We have good difficulty in our routines, comparable to the best in most events, and the guys have flair. They each have an individual style. They don't look as if they were all turned out by the same school."
Besides Daggett and Johnson, the team also includes 1985 national champion Brian Babcock of Southern Illinois, who was forced to drop off the Olympic team with a knee injury; Phil Cahoy of Nebraska, Dan Harden of Arizona State and Charles Lakes of Illinois-Champaign. The alternates are Billy Paul of California-Berkley and Brian Ginsberg of UCLA.
The U.S. women's team, which was led to the Olympic team silver by all-around gold medalist Mary Lou Retton, has an even tougher rebuilding job than the men's squad.
Though Retton has not officially retired, she did not go out for the World Championships team, apparently because of her busy schedule of endorsements.
In fact, only one of the 1984 Olympians, Pam Bileck, is on the teenaged team being handled by Olympic coach Don Peters.
"We're in a rebuilding phase," Peters said. "We have a lot of young, inexperienced kids -- just as we did back in 1981. We expect to build up to 1988 and Seoul as we did for 1984 and Los Angeles."
Besides Bileck, 16, of Huntington Beach, Calif., the team includes national all-around champion Sabrina Mar, 15, of Monterey Park, Calif.; Kelly Garrison, 17, of Alus, Okla.; Jennifer Sey, 16, and Tracy Calore, 15, both of Allentown, Pa., and Marie Roethlisberger, 19, of Huntington Beach, Calif.