BOSTON — Jamie Dantzscher sobbed in disbelief. "Did I make it, really?" she asked her ecstatic coaches, Steve Rybacki and Beth Kline-Rybacki. "Did I really make it?"
Yes, Dantzscher made it.
In one of the most quizzical, combustible, tense, emotional Olympic trials yet, Dantzscher, an 18-year-old from San Dimas, was one of six women chosen Sunday night for the 2000 U.S. gymnastics team.
Shannon Miller, the 23-year-old seven-time Olympic medalist, also couldn't stop sobbing. Her quixotic comeback, which began only eight months ago, ended with Miller limping off the floor, knees jammed from a vault landing, hopes riding on the thin chance that Miller's international standing would be enough to sway team coordinator Bela Karolyi into choosing Miller for the team.
Of the five Olympians from the 1996 gold medal-winning U.S. team who tried out for Team 2000, only 22-year-old premed student Amy Chow of San Jose, who finished second in an arduous two-part, two-week process, and 23-year-old Dominique Dawes, who has appeared on Broadway in the musical "Grease" and who only returned to the gym last February, will be in Sydney.
Chow and Dawes will be joined by Elise Ray, 18, of Columbia, Md., who won the national all-around championship last month; 19-year-old Kristen Maloney of Pen Argyl, Pa., who is a two-time national champion; 17-year-old Morgan White of Fairfield, Ohio; and Dantzscher. Alyssa Beckerman, 19, of Wyoming, Ohio, is the alternate.
Canyon Country's Vanessa Atler, seemingly America's brightest star three years ago when she won a national title as a 15-year-old, finished sixth but was left off the team in favor of Dawes.
Scores were kept from last month's U.S. nationals at St. Louis and the Olympic trials here. But the rules allow USA Gymnastics' Karolyi and a committee of three to pick the team they want.
"Vanessa, she is one of the closest to my heart, and one of the most talented young athletes ever," Karolyi said. "But talent is not enough to represent the U.S. You have to perform on the floor, and in two back-to-back nights Vanessa did not prove capable of representing this country and this sport in Australia."
Atler, who had left the Rybackis to train in Texas this year and who had worked closely with Karolyi, was fourth at nationals. But in Friday's preliminaries here, Atler was ninth and Sunday night she finished 10th.
"I don't know," Atler said, "I don't think my heart was totally in it."
The tension of this subjective process showed up Sunday night in lots of crying and lots of falling. By the end of night, even the best gymnasts were toppling, knocked down by fatigue and fear.
Ray, the steadiest performer, dropped off the beam and landed like a sack of cement on her last apparatus. First she blinked in amazement, then she laughed.
Dantzscher, who nearly quit the sport a year ago, was surprisingly steady while performing her first 15 routines on the four pieces of equipment. She had barely wobbled except for one stumbling landing on the balance beam Friday.
Then, on her 16th pass, Dantzscher fell off the beam when she tried to mount it, then fell off again. Dantzscher shook her head in wonder, then collapsed into the arms of her coach in tears. Had those two falls kept her off the Olympic team?
It turns out they didn't. Dantzscher ended up in fifth overall and was not ignored by Karolyi.
Maloney, one of the best floor-exercise performers in the world, fell on a routine tumbling pass, then dropped off the beam. "I don't know what happened," Maloney said. "I think we were all tired, mentally and physically."
Ray finished with the highest combined scores. Chow, the only 1996 Olympian who did not take an extended leave from gymnastics after the Atlanta Games, moved from her seventh-place showing at nationals to second. Maloney finished third, White fourth, Dawes seventh and Beckerman eighth. But Dawes had scored sixth-highest Friday and fifth-highest Sunday night.
After Miller, who is married and attends Oklahoma University, walked off the floor, she and her coach, Steve Nunno, tried some lobbying.
Miller said she only jammed her knees and did not reinjure the hairline fracture that had kept her out of nationals.
Added Nunno: "We want Shannon to be considered for the team for what we can do."
But Karolyi said Miller was not considered: "At this point we could not think about Shannon. I wish she had started out a little earlier, her comeback, so that she could pick up her physical fitness."
Karolyi will not be the official coach of this team. Kelli Hill, who trains Ray and Dawes, will be the coach and Mary Lee Tracy, who coaches White and Beckerman, will be the assistant.
It is to Karolyi's ranch, though, that this team will go and train.
"Bela's the guy," Ray said. "He's the one making us into winners."
That will be decided in Sydney.