INDIANAPOLIS -- Lance Ringnald felt the pectoral muscle rip in his right chest, but he wouldn't stop. He was on the rings, his arms stretched to the sides, his body forming a cross.
It was Sunday, the opening day of the World Gymnastics Championships, and the top male competitor from the United States was in trouble.
"You could hear the rip," Ringnald said. "It was just a little bit. And then, all of a sudden, it was lot. And that was it."
Ringnald was out of the meet and the U.S. medal hopes were virtually destroyed. When the optional team competition was held last night at the Hoosier Dome, Ringnald was on the sidelines watching, and his five teammates were on the floor trying to lock up a top-12 finish and a berth at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
The United States was fifth entering the final, which, considering the circumstances, was extraordinary. Normally, six gymnasts compete, with the top five scores counting. Losing Ringnald meant the United States not only lost its star, but also its cushion.
"It's like flying without a net," Ringnald said. "The circumstances are much more dramatic."
Ringnald now faces a personal drama, trying to recover in time for the Olympic trials next June in Baltimore.
The 21-year-old Albuquerque, N.M., native has competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics, the 1989 World Championships, and the 1990 Goodwill Games. He came into these World Championships expecting to medal in his specialty, the high bar, while leading the United States to a bronze in the team competition.
"What happens is that you rise to the occasion," he said. "You train hard and you train long and sometimes you hurt your body. I rose up for this competition, and maybe I pushed my body too hard."
Ringnald said the physical pain of the injury was easy to absorb. But the consequences of the injury were more difficult to accept. He placed a burden on his teammates, particularly, Scott Keswick, the UCLA senior who was eighth overall entering last night's competition.
"It hurts my heart and soul that my teammates don't have that extra man, that cushion," he said. "Everything was team. I'll hurt and I'll heal. I have no problem with that. I wasn't allowed to do the job that I trained to do, and I put pressure on the team."
But Ringnald also faces pressure. Once a leading contender to make the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, he is now a long shot to qualify for the Barcelona Games. Doctors have told him he will not be able to train for six months, leaving him only a three-month window of preparation before the trials.
"I can either get an operation to repair the muscle, or I can rehabilitate the muscle and see what happens," he said. "Right now, I'm leaning toward the operation."
For someone who had sustained the first major injury of his career, Ringnald was remarkably composed last night. He talked of working hard in the coming months and resuming his career. A torn muscle, he said, was only a temporary setback.
"I've been to the Olympics and other events because I've thought about the gymnastics, not the medals," he said. "I can't go to point D without passing through A, B and C. Point A is rehabilitation. Point B is training. Point C is improvement. And Point D, that's the Olympics. I either will or I will not make the team. But I will at least attempt to come back."