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Hatch Takes First Step

She wins a title in vault at U.S. gymnastics championships, now looks to qualify for Olympic trials with a strong all-around finish.

June 04, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

NASHVILLE — If there is no Olympics for Annia Hatch, if it turns out she cannot overcome the knee she tore up nine months ago in Anaheim, gymnastics has still been a blast, a way of fulfilling dreams she didn't know she had, a way of making her way in a country she never knew would accept her.

Hatch, the 25-year-old whose native Cuba wouldn't send her to the 1996 Olympics even though she had qualified, because it didn't want to take on the expense, won a U.S. national title in the vault Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

With her surgically repaired left knee tightly wrapped in a flesh-colored bandage, Hatch brought the crowd alive when she landed her vault with a defiant stick. That knee with the three-inch scar still prominent didn't wobble.

As important as that gold medal was, Hatch was more excited that after one night of competition at the U.S. gymnastics championships, she was ninth in the all-around scoring.

After a second round of doing routines on the vault, floor exercise, balance beam and uneven bars, the top 12 finishers are guaranteed a spot at the U.S. Olympic trials June 24-27 at the Arrowhead Pond.

And that is Hatch's dream. She wants more than anything to compete for her newly adopted country where she moved to be with her coach and husband, Alan Hatch.

While the stars of the evening were Courtney Kupets, who was in first place with a score of 38.225, and second-place Carly Patterson, the winner of the all-around silver medal at last year's world championships, who scored 38.150 points, the biggest smiles belonged to some of the underdogs such as Hatch.

Or Mohini Bhardwaj, also 25, who had just about given up the sport after she finished her UCLA career and suffered several injuries. But Bhardwaj shared a silver medal on the vault with Alicia Sacramone and Liz Tricase and stood in 10th place in the all-around scoring.

"My only regret," Bhardwaj said, "was that I held back a little bit on some routines."

First-night jitters also caused Allyse Ishino's stomach to turn over a few times. Ishino, a 16-year-old from Santa Ana, has made a quick rise up the ranks. She became one of the few Americans to beat Patterson in an all-around competition earlier this year in Hawaii. After one night, Ishino was fifth overall.

Tasha Schwikert, the only member of the 2000 U.S. team attempting to qualify again, is one of the athletes who feels she has something to prove. Her Las Vegas coach, Cassie Rice, kicked Schwikert out of the gym for nearly a month this year because of her lackadaisical training habits.

But Schwikert sparkled on the uneven bars, winning the individual gold medal with a spectacular landing and a final score of 9.650, and she was in third place overall after 50% of competition was recorded.

Schwikert, 19, has been hobbled by an Achilles injury that has kept her out of every big competition since last August's worlds.

Until her final routine of the night, on the uneven bars, Courtney McCool was challenging Kupets for first place. But McCool had a scary fall on her dismount when she lost her grip on the bar early and flew onto her back instead of her feet.

"I'm OK," McCool said. "I'm just mad at myself."

Even Kupets, the 2002 U.S. gymnastics athlete of the year, was in proving mode. Kupets blew out her Achilles tendon in training just before the finals of last year's world championships. While her teammates won a gold medal, Kupets went home to cry and then to rehab.

"Right now," Kupets said, "I just want to compete and be consistent. I've had a long struggle. I'm just glad I'm better."

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A limited number of single-session tickets are on sale for the U.S. Olympic trials at Anaheim June 24-27. Information: (714) 740-2000.

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