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WORLD SPORTS SCENE : Moceanu Is Enchanting Gymnastics Champion

August 23, 1995|MARYANN HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If there were any doubts that gymnast Dominique Moceanu will get a lot of attention in Atlanta next summer, they were dispelled last week when she made her national senior debut at the U.S. Championships and won.

In the tape-delayed telecast of the event Saturday night, NBC reveled in the 13-year-old, who resembles Nadia Comaneci and whose personality rivals Mary Lou Retton's. Moceanu is of Romanian descent, as is her coach--who else?--Bela Karolyi. It is all seemingly scripted for Hollywood, where Moceanu was born.

But the attention lavished on Moceanu might have overshadowed the most important aspects of this year's national women's team--depth and talent. These gymnasts have a good chance to win as a team, whether it be in the Olympics or the World Championships in October. The highest medal the women's team has won in world and Olympic competition is silver.

"There are about 10 girls who can make the world championship team," said Dwight Normile, editor of International Gymnast. "And it doesn't matter which seven make it, they are all so good. But it will help if some of the names are on the team, such as Shannon Miller."

Miller, looking strong, performed well at nationals and would have won had she not fallen off the balance beam. Her performance should silence criticism that, at 18, she is fading. Her form continues to be perfect and clean, and though she is bigger, she is not laboring.

Dominique Dawes, defending national champion, showed her toughness by finishing fourth, despite injuries.

Miller and Dawes complement Moceanu, who faltered during the individual event finals the day after winning the crown. But as the youngest national champion ever in the sport, her distraction was understandable.

"I think we're going to win [the team title] in Atlanta," said Don Peters, former women's Olympic coach. "No matter what goes wrong with any single athlete, it matters very, very little because there are so many of them. Russia and Romania drop off after one or two athletes."

*

That John Roethlisberger won the men's national title by nearly three points is a credit to his strength and consistency, but at the same time, it exposed the weaknesses of the men's gymnastics team.

Roethlisberger hit all of his routines, which nobody else did. But the field was diminished greatly by injuries to several of the top athletes, among them former champion Scott Keswick, Bill Roth, Steve McCain and Chris Waller.

"People have criticized the men's team in the past as being much better at the USA championships than at the next international competition," said Keswick, who is recovering from back surgery. "A lot of people have said that guys make the national team and then they don't care anymore. But that's not true. You have to be so ready at the USA championships to make the team, and then you peak out and it's difficult to hold that edge.

"So maybe the better way to do it is to make the world championships your goal and train through it, so you can peak there. Maybe it's smarter to trade a few misses for the big picture, because you have time to clean those things up."

The addition of the respected Peter Kormann, who was named men's team coach last week, should help bring continuity and expertise to the program.

*

David St. Pierre, from Broadway Gymnastics in Santa Monica, didn't qualify for the individual event final in the vault, but he won it anyway.

There were several scratches in the men's finals because of injuries, so St. Pierre was paged in the arena and asked if he wanted to compete. He didn't have his uniform, so he sent his girlfriend back to the hotel to get it, paying $20 for a $3 cab ride. Then, after an abbreviated warm-up, he went on to win his first national title. He is 28.

*

Considering how U.S. swimmers struggled against Pan Pacific opponents during the summer's biggest meet in Atlanta earlier this month, how can they expect to succeed against the rest of the world in the Olympics?

With the Chinese banned from the Pan-Pacs because of a drug scandal, Australia dominated both the men's and women's competition. Not even the United States' world record in the men's 400-meter relay could offset the disappointment.

*

Having recently visited Beijing, President Juan Antonio Samaranch of the International Olympic Committee said he does not believe China will bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Times staff writers Elliott Almond and Randy Harvey contributed to this story.

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