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Gymnast Turns Potential Into Olympic Appearance

September 16, 2000|DAN LOUMENA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Every coach who helps a young athlete along the road to stardom remembers the moment he sees the star begin to shine.

For Tony Lanzara of the AV Twisters gymnastics club in Palmdale, it was evident shortly after Jamie Dantzscher started training in 1989 that she could attain greatness.

Dantzscher, whose family lived in Littlerock at the time, had natural ability and superior body control. And much more.

"The two most important things for a gymnast are strength and flexibility," said Lanzara, who competed for Western Michigan. "Jamie was incredibly small for her age, but also incredibly strong. She went home and worked on [flexibility], and it took one month for her to get down all the splits and flexibility she needed. She had that kind of self-discipline and work ethic.

"Any area you worked with her, she was able to master it really quick. Jamie walked into the gym knowing absolutely nothing and walked out an elite gymnast."

Dantzscher and teammate Vanessa Atler of Canyon Country left the AV Twisters in 1995 to train with Steve Rybacki and his wife, Beth Kline-Rybacki, at Charter Oaks Gliders gym in West Covina.

This weekend, Dantzscher, who won the bronze medal in the all-around at the 2000 U.S. championships, hopes to compete in the Olympic Games. She sprained her ankle earlier this week during practice but insists she will perform.

Although she broke onto the national scene in 1997 at 15 by finishing sixth in the all-around at the U.S. championships, Dantzscher battled adversity and higher-profile gymnasts to qualify for the Olympics.

Dantzscher fell to 11th place in the 1998 nationals and injured a wrist in 1999. She later left Charter Oaks and trained with Bela Karolyi for a brief period in Houston.

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

She endured a grueling process to qualify for the Olympic team, where two rounds of scores from the national championships and two rounds of scores from the Olympic trials were combined for an overall score. Then a panel of judges, including Karolyi, selected the six-member team, regardless of the scores.

But the gymnastics world knew that what Karolyi wanted, the U.S. team would get. And he didn't say much about wanting Dantzscher.

While former national champion Atler struggled, Karolyi openly pulled for her.

When 1996 Olympic gold-medalists Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow came out of retirement to try to qualify, Karolyi was outspoken in his support and adamant that their leadership capabilities were needed.

Then on the final day of qualifying, Dantzscher twice fell off the balance beam and slipped to fifth place overall.

It was a tenuous spot because she has been a gold medalist only once in an individual event at nationals, tying Jennie Thompson at the 1999 U.S. championships in the uneven parallel bars. Her forte has always been consistency in each event, but she lacks international experience.

But with the slumping Atler placing sixth and Miller injured, Dantzscher was selected to the team.

"Jamie's always had talent, but she's had a hard time letting it go," Rybacki said of her troubles, which eventually led her back to Charter Oaks. "I think what you saw was a gymnast who has finally matured."

Dantzscher, who will begin classes at UCLA in January, began to mature when she relocated to San Dimas while in high school and began training 30 hours a week at Charter Oaks. Her family, which includes six siblings, did not move from Littlerock to San Dimas until this year.

"I've finally grown up," she said. "I've got things together."

Lanzara believes that Dantzscher's family, which includes rising elite gymnasts Jalynne and Janelle, who are twins, is the key.

"Her father [John] is a guy of impeccable character," Lanzara said. "Most families, when they go somewhere else, you never hear from them again. But John made sure to come back and keep me informed. He let me know how important it was that I was important to [Jamie's] development.

"There was no selling out, and he kept focusing her on college."

And now the world can focus on Dantzscher.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PROFILE

JAMIE DANTZSCHER

Age: 18

Birthplace: Canoga Park

Residence: San Dimas

College: UCLA

Honors: Bronze medalist in all-around at 2000 U.S. Gymnastics championships and finished fifth in U.S. Olympic trials. Shared gold medal in uneven parallel bars in 1999 nationals, when she was fifth all-around. Finished sixth overall in 1997 nationals.

SYDNEY

SCHEDULE

What: Women's gymnastics

When: Sept. 17-25.

Where: Sydney SuperDome

Qualifying: Team, all-around and individual apparatus on Sept. 17

Medal rounds: Team on Sept. 19; All-around on Sept. 21; individual apparatus on Sept. 24-25.

Team medal favorites: Romania, Russia, Ukraine, U.S., Australia

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