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Trio Keeps Dreams Alive

Southern California's Bhardwaj, Yim and Ishino retain a shot at the Olympic team.

June 28, 2004|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

There's a little bit of Hollywood, a little bit of Westwood, a little Irvine Northwood High and a whole lot of Southern California still in the running for the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team.

Mohini Bhardwaj, the former UCLA gymnast whose training is subsidized by actress Pamela Anderson, has a solid chance to make her first Olympic team at the ripe old age of 25 after finishing sixth in the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.

As Bhardwaj talked to reporters, Anderson milled about, saying she "absolutely" will go to Athens if Bhardwaj makes the team, and that she just increased her financial support for Bhardwaj.

"I auctioned a car," Anderson said.

Just ahead of Bhardwaj in the standings were fourth-place finisher Tabitha Yim, 18, a graduate of Irvine Northwood who will attend Stanford this fall, and fifth-place finisher Allyse Ishino, 16, who will be a junior at Santa Ana Foothill High.

There was a time when finishing in the top six would have put all three on the Olympic team, but that time is gone.

Instead, they are part of a 15-member training squad that will convene at the Karolyi ranch in Texas next month, vying for what amounts to four open spots on the six-member team.

Bhardwaj finished behind Yim and Ishino, but her experience and her rock-solid-consistency on the vault might propel her onto a team led by Courtney Kupets and Courtney McCool.

Bhardwaj earned a 9.6 with her Yurchenko double full vault on both days of competition, and she's confident she'll put up a 9.5 almost any time she tries it.

"I'm very consistent with it. I've actually been competing that vault since the first time I was in the Olympic trials in '96," Bhardwaj said.

Consider that Ishino was 8.

Bhardwaj looked around a room dotted with teenagers and did a little math.

"I've probably had, including my years competing in college, four or five times as many competitions as the others have had," she said.

Martha Karolyi, the national team coordinator, acknowledged what Bhardwaj's experience could mean on a team that will have no more than one previous Olympian.

"It's very nice to have a Mohini Bhardwaj who is [almost] 26 years old and very nice to show that gymnastics doesn't kill the young people," Karolyi said.

"I think she definitely would help the team on vault, and probably on bars."

Yim and Ishino will be trying to make the team not with a single standout event, but with their all-around performances.

"We're playing the consistency card," said Steve Rybacki, who with his wife Beth coaches the two gymnasts with the Charter Oaks Gliders in Covina.

"What they need to do is get rid of the one-tenth or two-tenths deductions, the small mistakes. There is still room for improvement for them."

Yim, a versatile athlete who competed in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 2002, is coming back from career-threatening injuries, including a broken leg, an Achilles' tendon injury and an ankle injury.

But her performance in the trials was solid, with no score lower than 9.275, a high of 9.525 on the beam and two 9.425s on a floor routine performed to the strains of a blues guitar.

"Yim shows very much artistical maturity," Karolyi said.

Ishino's scores in the two-day competition ranged from 9.2 in the floor exercise to a 9.475 on the uneven bars, and even if she doesn't make the Olympics this time, 2008 might be a possibility.

For Bhardwaj, you can be certain this is it: There will be no Olympics for her at 29.

"I'm doing this for myself, not for them [the selection committee] or anybody else," she said. "I'm doing what I can do before moving on to the next part of my life."

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