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Olympic Berths Hang in Balance

Women's gymnastics: Dantzscher, Dawes looking like casualties in Karolyi's selection process.


BOSTON — Jamie Dantzscher keeps saying it over and over.

"If I just do my best, that's all I can do."

Dantzscher, 18, of San Dimas, is the one being dubbed most likely to be left off the U.S. women's gymnastics team tonight, even if she finishes among the top four at the end of the trials process, maybe even if she finishes among the top three.

As coaches and officials gather and talk, this totally subjective process is being handicapped just like any big horse race. It will be team coordinator Bela Karolyi's call. That's understood. All the scores from the U.S. national championships and the Olympic trials will be tallied, but Karolyi will pick the team he wants.

Elise Ray, the sturdy 18-year-old from Columbia, Md., who won the nationals last month and who scored the best again Friday night in the preliminaries at the Olympic trials, and 19-year-old Kristen Maloney of Pen Argyl, Pa., a two-time national champion with a floor routine considered one of the best in the world, seem certain to make Karolyi's team.

Karolyi has spoken repeatedly of how much he appreciates the "steadiness" and the "sturdiness" of 17-year-old Morgan White, who is in fifth place after 70% of the competition. Even when White was barely cracking the top 10 after the first round of nationals in St. Louis, Karolyi had said, "I very much like Morgan White, that little kiddo, and her consistency."

Amy Chow, the 22-year-old veteran of the 1996 gold medal U.S. team, is in third place and has elegant, difficult routines on the uneven bars and balance beam. Karolyi said Friday he would most likely take only two of the three 1996 veterans still competing. That means either Dominique Dawes or Shannon Miller, the 23-year-old, seven-time Olympic medalist, will stay home. And since Karolyi said four times on Friday how much he liked Miller's performance, Dawes seems likely headed to retirement.

And Karolyi said Friday how he'd like to see Vanessa Atler, the 18-year-old from Canyon Country, leading off in Sydney on several apparatuses. Karolyi said this even after Atler had fallen flat on her back on her balance beam dismount.

About Dantzscher, though, Karolyi has said nothing.

This last year has not gone smoothly for Dantzscher, who trains in West Covina with coaches Steve Rybacki and Beth Kline-Rybacki.

Twice Dantzscher left the Rybackis. Once she went to SCATS in Huntington Beach to work with coach Don Peters and once, in March, Dantzscher showed up at one of Karolyi's training camps with no coach.

"I lost my focus and I didn't know what to do," Dantzscher said. "I wasn't performing well. I was missing the same things over and over."

Dantzscher and Atler had trained together for nearly three years, until Atler left the Rybackis, frustrated over her constant misses on the uneven bars.

If it comes down to Dantzscher or Atler for the final spot on the team tonight, "that will be weird," Dantzscher said. "I don't have any hard feelings with Vanessa, but I know it was hard for my coaches when she left."

Over three rounds of competition, two in St. Louis at nationals, and the preliminaries of the Olympic trials at FleetCenter, Dantzscher has missed only one routine, on the balance beam Friday night. But she came right back and nailed her floor exercise, scoring 9.812, highest of the evening.

She knows people keep expecting her to crumble. "But that's not me anymore," Dantzscher said. "I've finally grown up. I've got things together. All I can do is my best now. And wait and see."

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