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Trials to Provide Lots of Tumbles, Few Answers

Women's gymnastics national coordinator Martha Karolyi will pick team following trials in Anaheim.

June 20, 2004|From Associated Press

The process of picking the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team sounds as if it was concocted behind the Iron Curtain rather than beneath the Stars and Stripes.

The next step in the confusing and secretive process is the Olympic trials, which run Thursday through Sunday in Anaheim. But contrary to the very idea of the event, the names of the 12 Olympic gymnasts -- six men, six women -- won't all be known once the meet ends.

Women's national coordinator Martha Karolyi will use trials as a glorified practice, from which she'll pick a team of nine to 11 gymnasts who will go to her ranch in Texas for a final training camp. It is there, after a series of workouts closed to the public, that the six Olympians will be named on July 18.

The men, meanwhile, head to California without a firm idea of what will happen when trials end. They could pick a team right on the spot, or might wait until after a training camp in July. The decision will likely hinge on whether two of their top athletes, Blaine Wilson and Jason Gatson, are healthy.

The powers at USA Gymnastics insist there is a purpose to the confusion, which is to select the best, most well-rounded team for the Athens Games, where the American men and women will both be medals favorites.

"We're excited, and maybe a little scared at the depth we have," USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarrosi said. "It's going to be very hard to get the right kids on the floor."

In the team finals at the Athens Olympics, three athletes compete in each event and all three scores will count. At previous Olympics, five or six gymnasts competed and the lowest score was thrown out. Without that luxury now, there is no room for error.

That means teams have to take specialists: Gymnasts who might not have great scores on all events but are particularly good at one or two events. One example is Hollie Vise, the defending world champion on uneven bars. Another is Annia Hatch, a former world bronze medalist on vault.

Hatch (knee) and Vise (back) missed nationals because of injuries. Both are expected to compete at trials through injury petitions, though possibly not in all events.

If either makes the Olympic team, it would probably be as a specialist and could come at the expense of a more well-rounded gymnast.

Under the selection process, the top two finishers at women's trials are automatically invited to Karolyi's camp. At nationals, Courtney Kupets and Carly Patterson shared the title, finishing a full point ahead of bronze medalist Terin Humphrey.

That makes them near locks for the Olympic team, even if they bomb at trials or camp. For good reason, both say they like the selection process.

"They won't just base it on the camp," Kupets said. "It's what we've been doing the past couple years -- all the meets, all the camps. I don't know any other way."

The women are gold-medal favorites in Athens, largely on the strength of their performance at the World Championships last year. Despite losing three athletes to injury and illness, the women won their first gold.

Had such a feat occurred during an Olympic year, it could have outshined anything Kerri Strug did in 1996. But as a sign of how deep the American team really is, three members of that world championship team -- Vise, Tasha Schwikert and Chellsie Memmel -- will have to scramble just to make this year's Olympic team.

"It's kind of hard because she's been training really hard and this has been her goal for a long time, too," Patterson said of Vise, her teammate at World Olympic Gymnastics Academy. "I think she'll compete one or two events at trials. She's been working hard for that."

The men combine scores from nationals (40 percent) and trials (60 percent) and the top two finishers earn spots on the Olympic team. The rest of their selection process will almost certainly depend on the health of Wilson (biceps) and Gatson (back).

Both should earn spots on the team if healthy. But if neither can compete at trials, expect the men's selection committee to defer naming its team until the two work out at a training camp in July. If both can go and are effective at trials, however, the team could be named after the men's competition ends Saturday.

"Evaluating the last couple years, those guys really deserve to be on the team," said Brett McClure, who finished second at nationals. "I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I'm glad the selection procedure allows them to take more time and heal their bodies."

The men's team won silver at the world championships last year, and Paul Hamm was the all-around gold medalist.

Hamm and his brother, Morgan, are nearly assured spots on the team.

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