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Hatch Vaults Into Contention

The 25-year-old Cuban native, ancient by gymnastics standards, wins vault and grabs all-around lead at U.S. championships.

June 20, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE — At 25, Annia Hatch seems almost ancient to 17-year-old Ashley Postell. Seeing Hatch win the U.S. vault title and rank first after the all-around preliminaries at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Thursday was almost beyond comprehension for Postell.

"I'm surprised about anybody who's way up there at that age," said Postell, who won the floor exercise title with a strong routine to "Bolero."

Hatch, a native of Cuba who moved to the U.S. in 1997, is aging well. Boosted by starting the meet with a superb vault, a Yurchenko 2 1/2 that was marred only by a small hop on the landing, Hatch hit all her routines and totaled 37.475 points, .100 ahead of Postell. Hollie Vise is third with 37.275 points, including a 9.725 on the balance beam to win that event title.

"I just focus on my workouts and my performances. I never, ever think about my age," said Hatch, who is coached by her husband, Alan, in West Haven, Conn. "If I can be a role model, that would be nice."

Two-time defending U.S. champion Tasha Schwikert of Las Vegas, who hadn't competed for nearly a year because of ankle problems that led to surgery in December, is sixth after the all-around preliminaries with 36.925 points. The other individual event winner was Katie Heenan, who earned a 9.575 on the uneven bars. Heenan is eighth overall.

The all-around champion will be determined Saturday, as will three berths on the U.S. women's team for the world championships in Anaheim in August. Those spots will go to the top three finishers in the all-around competition, based on a combined total of 50% of the score from the preliminaries and 50% of the score from Saturday's finals. The remaining three berths and two alternates will be chosen at a selection camp in July.

Schwikert got off to a so-so start Thursday by stepping out of bounds on the first tumbling pass of her floor exercise routine and getting a 9.275. She followed with a big hop while landing her vault, which also brought her a 9.275. She struggled with her uneven bars routine, losing control on the low bar and earning an 8.85, but she finished strong with a 9.525 on the balance beam.

"It was little things that I know, if I had more training behind me, might not have happened," Schwikert said.

Hatch, known as a strong vaulter but weak in other events, had nothing to regret Thursday at U.S. Cellular Arena. Her lowest score was 9.2 on floor exercise, and she was delighted with the 9.275 she got for her uneven bars performance. Her 9.650 on her winning vault was the second-highest score of the night in any event.

"I'd like to be thought of as good in the all-around," said Hatch, who became a U.S. citizen in 2001 and received permission to represent the U.S. in international competition four months ago. "I went into the [uneven bars] confident. I said, 'I'm doing this in practice well.' I showed today I can do it."

She's competing because she wants to, and because she still enjoys it. "Before, I had to represent my country. They put too much pressure on me," she said. "Now, I enjoy it."

The pressure of knowing the world championships are two months away and the Athens Olympics are barely a year off is weighing on many competitors, but Courtney Kupets, fourth after the preliminaries with 37.225 points, said the pressure can be a motivating factor this weekend.

"It's like the starting point of the year," said Kupets, who trains with Postell in Gaithersburg, Md. "You want to do well so you can show everyone you can do it."

The men's competition begins today with the all-around preliminaries and event finals.

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