The last time most of us saw Charles Lakes he was finishing first among American male gymnasts at the 1988 Olympic Games, proving to Kurt Thomas, at least, that his criticized training regime wasn't all bad.
Then, because of injuries, Lakes virtually disappeared.
Saturday, Lakes, now 30, was on the telephone voicing his own criticism, questioning the U.S. Gymnastics Federation's training philosophy and dedication to its men's program.
"It's a general concept of not thinking it through--we have tried to train like the (former) Soviets," said Lakes, who coaches at Foothill Academy of Gymnastics in Monrovia and is attempting a comeback.
"They are so good at their junior level that they consistently beat us, and we could never catch up because we could not get our juniors to train the way they do. The hard work, the boredom and discipline, and this threat that if you win you will have a good life and if not you will have a bad life, that doesn't work over here. As a coach now I see that when you push the kids, they quit. You don't need that much time in the gym."
Lakes believes American men can compete at the highest level if they execute less difficult moves while concentrating on creative and artistic expression in their routines. "I remember when Kurt Thomas criticized me because I only trained 1 1/2 hours a day," he said. "But I won the Olympic trials and finished highest (19th) on the team at the Olympics."
Since Lakes was involved, the USGF has made changes in several areas, such as a generous cash assistance program to its athletes, but the results for the men haven't improved much. Dennis McIntyre, men's assistant program director, says the USGF is dedicated and looking for training alternatives.
"For a long time we got bogged down in that, 'What are (the Soviets) doing? We should be doing that too,' " he said. "In the past there have been a lot of comparison gymnastics, but now, things are different. We are looking at our strength, which is diversity, and there are a lot of different ways to get there. We have to determine what is best for the college gymnast, which might be different for the club gymnast."
Saturday at the Pan American Games the U.S. men's team won the gold medal, beating the Cubans solidly by a quarter of a point. American John Roethlisberger won the all-around.
The baseball team from St. John's University volunteered to use its spring break to represent the United States at the Pan-Am Games, but it probably wishes it hadn't. In its opener, it lost to Argentina, 6-4, a stunning upset. Sunday, it lost to Mexico, 7-2.
Baseball is almost a nonexistent sport in Argentina, which lost every game the last time it entered a team in the Pan Am Games, in 1951. There is only one true baseball stadium in Argentina and there are no professional leagues. Argentina spent five years putting together its team.
Melisa Moses endured shin splints half a dozen times, suffered a neck injury that came close to paralyzing her and had knee surgery, but it was the poor condition of her wrist joints that caused her doctor to advise her to give up gymnastics at the age of 17.
Six years later, Moses, from Orange Park, Fla., is competing at the Pan Am Games on the U.S. diving team. Last year she won the one- and three-meter events at the U.S. outdoor national championships. Even with the switch, though, Moses' accidents continue. A back injury kept her from diving for six months. "I don't think I'm clumsy," she told Associated Press. "I've just had bad luck. All the accidents have happened when I've been doing well."
The most consistent U.S. woman diver, Mary Ellen Clark, dropped out of the Pan-Am Games because of vertigo. It is her third episode with the condition. . . . In announcing in Buenos Aires on Friday that she will compete for her country in this year's Fed Cup, Argentine tennis star Gabriela Sabatini said that she also plans to play in the '96 Summer Olympics. . . . Because of limited financial support from the Canadian Olympic Assn., athletes in six sports had to pay $1,200 each to compete in the Pan American Games.
Anticipating budgetary cuts of their own after the '96 Summer Olympics, U.S. Olympic Committee officials already have begun to prepare for the next quadrennial period by forming a committee. It is known as RAT--Resource Allocation Task Force. The USOC's financial outlook would improve considerably if Salt Lake City is awarded the 2002 Winter Games in a vote this summer by the International Olympic Committee. Salt Lake bid committee representatives are in Argentina for the Pan Am Games to meet with IOC members from South and Central America. This could be the last campaign by a U.S. city for awhile. The USOC decided not to designate a bid city for the 2004 Summer Games in deference to the candidacy of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Times Staff Writer Randy Harvey contributed to this story.