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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS / The Countdown: 12 Days To The
Games | OLYMPIC SCENE

It All Adds Up to the Right U.S. Gymnasts

July 07, 1996|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the end, the system worked, even if it meant running a few gymnasts, their coaches, their families and their friends through the wringer.

The complicated, computational qualification system for the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team--which involved the two top gymnasts in the land, Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu, attending the trials in Boston but not competing--did produce the best possible team. Three past or present U.S. champions--Miller, Moceanu and Dominique Dawes--made the team along with two other members of the bronze-medal team at the 1995 World Championships, Kerri Strug and Jaycie Phelps.

"The least we'll do in Atlanta is a bronze medal," predicts Steve Nunno, Miller's coach.

The mood was not as ebullient in the Theresa Kulikowski camp. Among 14 gymnasts who actually competed last weekend in Boston, Kulikowski finished sixth. Ordinarily, that would have put her on the seven-woman Olympic squad.

But because Miller and Moceanu were there with national- championship scores only, and because no gymnast in Boston was able to match those scores (78.38 for Miller, 78.22 for Moceanu), Miller and Moceanu bumped Kulikowski from sixth to eighth--one slot out of luck.

Kulikowski's coach, Tom Forster, was asked if he agreed with the selection process.

"I did, until now," he said, managing a thin smile. "I really don't like it now."

To her credit, Kulikowski did her best to see the big picture.

"I think it's great for the team," she said, "and it's great to have [Miller and Moceanu] there.

"But the thing is: This is a high-pressure meet, and it tests an athlete. You never know what could have happened."

Bela Karolyi, who coaches Moceanu and availed himself of the petition process to the great advantage of his gymnast, was less than thrilled with the system too. But, then, he doesn't much care for the trials concept, either.

"In Romania, in '76 and '80, we picked the team this way--'You, you, you and you,' " he says. "Those were the good old days. And, still the best way."

FACTOID

On the menu for 15,000 coaches and athletes at the Olympic Village, which opened Saturday, are 115,300 pounds of potatoes, 32,450 pounds of hamburger, 15,000 pounds of chicken, 199,000 sandwich buns, 274,500 cheese slices, 337,120 pickle slices, 7,000 pounds of lettuce, 262 gallons of catsup and 116 gallons of mustard.

NEWSMAKER

Not only is swimmer Jenny Thompson saying all the right things--bravely marching along despite enormous disappointment--she is doing all the right things in the pool.

Thompson, 23, turned in a virtuoso performance at the Santa Clara International Invitational last weekend, winning four individual events--the 50-meter freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. Her winning time at Santa Clara in the 100 free was 55.28 seconds, one-hundredth of a second off the first-place time at the Olympic trials in March.

At the trials, Thompson, winner of two gold medals in relays and a silver in the 100 freestyle four years ago in Barcelona, failed to qualify for this summer's team in any individual events. But she will swim in the 400-meter freestyle relay.

"I've decided I'm going to take it as it is," said Thompson, who graduated from Stanford and might go to medical school. ". . . One race [at the Olympics] will be enough. I'll just give it my all and go out for my country. I've accepted it."

Said U.S. women's Coach Richard Quick, who also coached Thompson at Stanford: "Obviously, I've been proud of Jenny Thompson many, many times in her career. But I've never been more proud of her attitude in preparing for the Games. It's nothing short of extraordinary. And I think it's a tremendous testimony to her character."

LAUREL WREATH

The Native American Sports Council has contributed $10,000 for living and training expenses to javelin thrower Todd Riech. The only Native American competing for the United States in the Olympics, he was raised on the Flathead and Kootenai Indian Reservation in Montana.

THORN WREATH

The International Olympic Committee will prohibit U.S. broadcasters other than rights-holder NBC from airing news conferences during the Games until 30 minutes after they end.

Olympic Scene Notes

Cosmas Ndeti, three-time Boston Marathon winner, was selected to run for Kenya in the Olympics but declined because of the heat and humidity. . . . Kenny Harrison, 1991 world champion in the triple jump, finished first at the U.S. trials but believed he lacked a qualifying mark for the Games. One was found, though, from an indoor meet in 1995.

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