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THE 1987 PAN AMERICAN GAMES : Women's Gymnastics : Mar Leads Sweep by U.S. in All-Around

August 23, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Not a bit unnerved by the tears that Kristie Phillips was spilling for a national television audience, Sabrina Mar of the Huntington Beach SCATS gymnastics club went about the business of winning the Pan American all-around gold medal.

Mar had the best score of the day in every event, getting a 9.875 for a vault, a 9.750 on the uneven bars, a 9.875 on the balance beam, and a 9.875 for her floor exercise routine.

Figured in with her totals from the first two days of competition, Mar won the all-around title with a total of 77.975, beating the Pan Am record set by Doris Fuchs of the U.S. at Sao Paulo in 1963.

Phillips, who won the silver with 77.362, also had a score better than the old record. And Kelly Garrison-Steves came up with a total of 77.300 to give the U.S. a sweep of the medals.

U.S. Coach Greg Marsden did an encore of his speech about how strong the team is, pointing out that the top five women after the team competition were Americans, although only the top three from each nation could be entered in the all-around competition.

All around, it was a banner day for the U.S., but Phillips seemed stricken, her eyes red and swollen.

She was crying long before she fell off the beam on a routine back flip. Asked why she thought she fell, she said, "I was a little upset about my former event and I let it get the best of me. I wasn't concentrating on the event like I should have been."

The former event was the uneven bars, on which she scored a 9.725. Before that she vaulted for a 9.825 and before that her floor exercise was judged to be a 9.75.

She said that she was crying between events because she was upset with the judging. And she cried some more when she was asked about it.

Kristie seemed to be the only one suffering shock over her silver medal performance.

She tried so hard to give the right answers, saying that everyone on the team wanted success for everyone else, saying that she'd go back to the gym and work harder, saying that she couldn't blame her lack of concentration on the absence of her coach, Bela Karolyi, who as back in Houston after being injured in a fall from his horse.

But her sobbing betrayed her. She was crushed. She couldn't believe she had not finished on top.

Meanwhile, Mar--who is two years older and light years more mature--was sitting next to her, taking it all in stride and answering questions about her congenital back problem and her broken leg.

Mar broke the tip of her shin bone, near the right ankle, at the end of February and has not been able to work out regularly the way she would like to. A curvature of the spine, which she was born with, causes her to have to take time away from gymnastics to do exercises to compensate for a weakness in her lower back.

After a good year in 1985, Mar's back bothered her a lot in 1986 and in the early part of this year, but the strength work has helped her back and her overall performance.

"This has been a comeback year for her," SCATS Coach Don Peters said.

Asked if Mar's victory over Phillips signaled a lasting change, Peters said he didn't think so. As far as he's concerned, Phillips has never really taken over--except in headlines and magazine covers. "It's the media that likes to develop one personality and go with the name recognition," Peters said. "There really are several gymnasts who can win for us right now. It's a very strong group."

And Mar, who will be a senior at Marina High School, is one of the likely stars at the World Championships and at the Olympics in '88.

"She's been at a disadvantage not being able to train the way she would like," Peters said. "Physically, these kids are always in good condition. To get competition-ready, they need to hit their routines over and over, just to gain the confidence that they can do it consistently, every time they need to. Sabrina had to gain that confidence that on mental strength.

"That shows the maturity, the confidence she has now. I don't think she could have done that in '85 . . .

"Winning the gold medal here is going to reinforce her confidence . . .

"This whole thing is an inner game."

Mar agreed, saying, "Mental strength is a very major factor."

From the doorway, Keith Henschen, a psychologist in the University of Utah's sports medicine department and one of the psychologists that works with the U.S. gymnasts and track athletes, observed the scene.

"Sabrina is amazing," Henschen said. "She is mentally very strong, very mature. But don't be surprised to see Kristie come bouncing right back. She's a lot tougher than she looks right now."

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