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Olympic Hopes Are Far Away

Athletics: Mission Valley's Chiyo Bonnet wins all-around title in the top level of gymnastics competition at the California State Games.

August 12, 1996|MELANIE NEFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BUENA PARK — After watching the U.S. women's gymnastics team win its first gold medal, many expected to see the eyes of all young gymnasts light up in anticipation of their chance to compete in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

But, for the gymnasts competing Sunday at the California State Games at Buena Park High, the Olympics are either out of reach or eight years away.

With the recent change in the minimum age for an Olympic gymnast being raised to 16, many will have to wait until 2004.

"I don't like the rule," said 17-year-old Chiyo Bonnet of Mission Valley. "Many girls are upset by it. It will make it really hard for them, because they'll get burned out by the time they are old enough."

Bonnet, Sunday's all-around gold-medal winner in the highest skill level group (10), has been competing since she was 10. Once with Olympic dreams of her own but now more realistic, she easily outdistanced her competition, winning the all-round gold with a score of 36.45. She was also first in the vault, uneven bars and the floor exercise. She took the bronze in the balance beam.

Her top score (9.4) came in the vault. In the YMCA Nationals this year, Bonnet won the gold medal with a vault of 9.67.

"When I first started doing this I thought about the Olympics," said Bonnet, who hopes to attend Georgia after graduating from high school next year. "But now I just enjoy doing it. And I hope to get a college scholarship out of it."

While athletes are disheartened by the new age ruling, parents seem to agree with it.

"I think it's a good idea," said Alhambra's Sylvia Kodaya, whose 10-year-old daughter Hilary dreams of competing in the 2004 Olympics. "It is really hard on their young bodies and it's hard to manage school and gymnastics at such a young age."

Hilary Kodaya, competing in skill level eight, won gold medals in the all-around and the floor exercise, as well as silver in the vault and beam and a bronze on the uneven bars. Her role model is 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu, the youngest member of the U.S. gold medal team.

"I think everyone wants to be in the Olympics," said Hilary Kodaya, who practices three to four hours a day. "But now I have to wait now until I'm 18. That's a long ways away."

And Sylvia Kodaya downplays any role the Olympics might have in Hilary's future.

"We don't discuss it," Sylvia Kodaya said. "It started out as just recreation, but then she started getting serious. I saw in her a natural ability. So now we just take it season to season. The time investment is the biggest sacrifice we make. She has no social life, so for now it keeps her focused and off the streets."

And while Hilary holds on to her Olympic dream, her teammate 10-year-old Monique Wiesmuller of Altadena, has different dreams of gold.

"I don't really care about the Olympics," said Wiesmuller, whose mother is a coach. "I just want to be in commercials and make a lot of money."

But most agree that college and just plain fun are the main reasons for competing. Although they all enjoyed watching the U.S. team, most realize it is an out-of-reach goal and use gymnastics to enhance their lives in other ways.

"It's more for fun for most girls," said Joyce Caudillo, mother of 15-year-old gymnast Annecy. "It's good for self-esteem and it prepares you to get up in front of people. Once you get up on a balance beam, in a leotard, in front of judges, there is nothing to getting up in front of your class and giving a book report."

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