FAIRFAX, Va. — The McDonald's American Cup remained American, although there were a couple of scary moments. How about Brian Ginsberg, who admittedly "choked" on the horizontal bar when leading last year's gymnastics competition, having to finish this weekend's meet on the same instrument of torture and in the exact same circumstances, thinking deja vu the entire time he wound around the bar.
And how about Kristie Phillips, the surprise winner of the American Cup last year as a 13-year-old, needing a high score on Sunday's final event, the floor exercise, to surpass the Soviet Union's Olga Strazheva, who had led from the first event.
But both came through. Ginsberg, 20, finished second in this meet last year, when he allowed himself "to get all worked up" before his horizontal-bar routine. "I just choked under pressure," he recalled after winning the men's all-around competition at George Mason University Sunday. "I was a little too nervous."
Last year, he knew he needed a 9.9 on the bar to win. But he planted a quivering dismount and settled for a 9.55 to fall to second. This time, he needed a 9.65 to head off the Soviet Union's Vladimir Gogoladze. "All I could think was deja vu ," Ginsberg said. "It was going through my mind the whole time I was winding for my dismount." A dismount, incidentally, that was more difficult than last year's.
Ginsberg went round and round, his anxiety not very apparent to a full house of squealing gymnastics fans. He landed firmly and cleanly for a 9.75, thus finishing with a point total of 58.150, ahead of Gogoladze (58.00) and U.S. teammate Scott Johnson (57.60), who was leading until he tumbled on his bar dismount.
"That's the difference a year makes," said UCLA Coach Art Shurlock, who works with Ginsberg in Los Angeles. "The progress he's made is more mental than physical. He was still a little scared this time, but once he started . . . " He finished.
Phillips, who some would already nominate as the Queen of Seoul, still has a ways to go before she wins any Olympic medals or even replaces the legend of Mary Lou Retton, the gymnast she follows at Bela Karolyi's Houston gym. Still, her performance in the international meet Sunday was nearly flawless. Although Strazheva began with a bang, scoring a 9.90 on the vault and then a 9.90 on the uneven bars, Phillips hung in.
Finally, on the beam, she broke through with 9.90. It is her favorite event and certainly that of the fans. Apparently all ligament, Phillips literally bends over backwards for her applause, forming a human O. The crowd provides the exclamation point.
That still left her .050 of a point behind Strazheva, a technical virtuoso. And worse, she had to lead rotation in the floor exercise, with Strazheva coming behind. But Phillips, to the shrieks of pre-teen admirers in the audience, capped the exercise with a double-back flip in the more difficult pike position to score a 9.775. As is her wont, she returned to the mat to accept another round of applause.
Strazheva, who does not similarly work the crowd (she is unsmiling), then performed her routine. It includes, on the first pass, a very difficult forward double flip. However, she was a bit ragged coming out of it and the compensating difficulty was discounted by the judges, who gave her a 9.70. Phillips had retained her title.
Even though there was one more grab at it. Houston teammate Phoebe Mills, who could one day supplant Phillips, had a fabulous floor routine, scoring 9.825. It was, however, only good enough to get third place with a score of 39.225. Phillips had scored a career-high 39.275 to Strazheva's 39.250.
It was not exactly a dominant meet for Phillips, yet Karolyi was much impressed. Noting that the American Cup tends to foreshadow Olympic heroines--Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton have owned this particular event--he said, "History is repeating, history is repeating." At least Phillips was repeating, and for a while, that looked doubtful.