Five Howard County athletes have qualified for the U.S. Gymnastics Federation national contest next month in Texas. The competition is a precursor to the Olympic Trials in Baltimore in June.
A regional qualifying contest, held last weekend at Mount Hebron High School, brought together 500 competitors, 11 of them county residents.
In Class I (ages 16-18) Neil Niemi (98.8 points), qualified for the nationals, placing 11th overall in the meet.
Four other gymnasts, competing in the Class II division (ages 13-15), also advance to the national competition: Jim Hiatt (97.25 points), Jon Repetti (95.66points), Randy Frederick (95 points) and Ken Hockyko (94 points).
"Everyone has the Olympics in mind," said Andy Bulleri, father of Howard County gymnast Tim Bulleri. "But only six boys are chosen out ofthe entire country. The main goal is to help the boys get a scholarship to some college."
Working to beat a 94- or 96-point score in Class I requires a fever pitch of training. Most competitors spend five days a week, three hours a day practicing and participate in two tothree meets each month from November to May.
"The preparation forthe nationals won't be much different than up to this point," said Rick Tucker, owner and manager of Gym Plus in Columbia, a training center for gymnasts.
"We won't be experimenting with new training. We'll work on maintaining their strength and flexibility, repeating routines with emphasis on 100 percent completion and help them gain confidence in performing.
"Radiating confidence helps the score," he said.
A score of 94 was the minimum qualifying number in Class II. County competitors Mike Ficca (93 points), and Tim Bulleri (92.3 points), barely missed qualifying for the trip to Texas.
The national competition will be held May 9-10 in Austin, Texas, while the Gymnastics Olympic Trials will be June 6-13 in Baltimore.