"Born in the USA" was rocking through the Inner Harbor amphitheater as gymnasts bounded around to kick off the promotion of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials that will be held here in June 1992.
Better it had been "Made in Maryland," for the state's best hope to make the Olympic team is Maryland-bred and Maryland-trained. Dominique Dawes, a 14-year-old from Montgomery Blair High School ranked ninth in the nation, hasn't packed off to Houston and gymnastics mentor Bela Karolyi. And she doesn't plan to do so.
"No, I don't think I need to go away for my training," said Dawes, a member of Kelli Hill's Hill's Angels team in Gaithersburg. "I think Kelli is getting better every day."
There is certainly some evidence of that. Dawes, on hand yesterday to present the first Gymnastics Trials ticket to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- a cardboard replica See JUMP TO COME, 00, Col. 0JUMP TO COME, from 1Dalmost as big as her 4-foot-7 self -- finished tied for first in the floor exercises at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Cincinnati in June. It was at that meet that she was declared the sport's newest charismatic marvel.
"She's wonderful," said Tim Daggett, a member of the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. Now a commentator for NBC, which will broadcast five hours of the trials from Baltimore Arena next June, Daggett is sold on Dawes.
"She is one of the most exciting competitors I've ever seen. She has magic, and she has charisma. Her time is now," said Daggett.
Dawes must still earn a spot on the U.S. team that will be selected later this month to attend the World Championships in Indianapolis in September. That would be a significant first step toward making a U.S. Olympic squad considered almost certain medal material for the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Only six girls are selected, and two-time national champion Kim Zmeskal and American Cup champion Betty Okino -- products of Karolyi's gym in Houston -- are considered shoo-ins, barring injury.
Daggett is convinced that Dawes is made of the same stuff.
"She can walk out on the floor with anyone in the world," he said. "She proved that at the Dutch Open. Everybody who matters was there."
The key is dedication, said one of her coaches, Blane Jefferson, not geography.
"You don't have to do it that way," said Jefferson. "Some parents think that. But Karolyi only works with the top five anyway. That's an Iron Curtain way of thinking. We're capitalists. We have to take everyone who comes to us or we don't survive.
"For Dominique, she just has to be mentally tough. She is already capable. She showed that at nationals. She should have won [the floor exercises, for which she was tied with Zmeskal]. The crowd knew it.
"She just has to believe she is as good as she is."
For her part, Dawes is pleased that the competition that will determine the U.S. Olympic team will be held in her back yard.
"This is almost my hometown, and, hopefully, it will make a difference," said Dawes.
"It did for Melissa Marlowe when the trials were held in Salt Lake City . The crowd really made it happen for her."
And it looks as if Dawes is one of those gymnasts that can make it happen for the crowd.
That's the ticket
The packages and prices of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials to be held June 6-13, 1992. Call (301) 347-2006.
* Package 1 $50, $35, $20: June 6: Rhythmic preliminaries; June 7: Rhythmic finals.
* Package 2 $200, $125, $75, $50, $30: June 11: women's compulsories; June 12: men's compulsories; June 13 (afternoon): women's optional finals; June 13 (evening): men's optional finals.
* Package 3 $250, $150, $80, $60, $40: Combination of Package 1 and Package 2.