COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Look out, Baltimore. Bela's coming to town. And he's bringing a big, ol' bad mood with him.
"Eleven years I fight and I fight the same kind of response," Bela Karolyi said after the judges failed to deliver marks he felt Kim Zmeskal deserved during the U.S. Gymnastics Championships this weekend.
"It was the sorriest competition, poisoned by really low-class judging," Karolyi said.
Hard to believe Zmeskal won her third straight U.S. all-around title with the highest score in U.S. history. "They score her like the babies," he stormed. "They are the sorriest bunch of housewives who have nothing in common with gymnastics."
To be continued . . . in Baltimore June 6-13, when Karolyi, who has produced Olympic medalists in 1984 and 1988 since arriving in his adopted nation in 1980, brings Zmeskal and three other little orchids from his Houston hothouse to compete for six spots and one alternate on the Olympic team.
Zmeskal will be joined by Kerri Strug and Hilary Grivich from Karolyi's, as well as Betty Okino, who bypassed this weekend's national championships with a minor back injury, but who has been granted an injury waiver to Baltimore.
And the rivalry begun here between Zmeskal and Shannon Miller, trained in Edmond, Okla., by one of Karolyi's former assistants, also will be resumed. It was abbreviated when Miller, who was the surprise leader after compulsories, withdrew from optionals because an elbow injury had delayed her training.
"We didn't want to do a second-rate bar routine," coach Steve Nunno said. "Before her injury, we put together a routine that she could win the world with, a triple release that nobody else does."
Look for it in Baltimore.
Also watch for Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring, Md., who matched Zmeskal with 9.9s on the beam and the floor during the optionals on Saturday, finishing fourth all-around and within reach of an Olympic spot.
Yesterday, in individual competition, she beat Zmeskal on the uneven bars, winning a gold medal to Zmeskal's silver.
And she would have challenged Zmeskal, the reigning world champion in beam and floor exercises, in those events, too, but scratched with a sore ankle.
"It wasn't worth the risk, not with Baltimore two weeks away," said Donna Craig, one of Dawes' coaches at Kelli Hill's gym in Silver Spring.
"Okino comes, Miller comes. That adds two," said Hill, handicapping the trials. "If she [Dawes] does the job we know she can do, that still puts her on the team."
Dawes does a blow-the-doors-off show on the floor that should ignite her local fans in the Baltimore Arena. "Hopefully, that will motivate me to do even better in Baltimore," she said.
The men's team may lack the histrionics of Karolyi, but it will not lack for power or drama.
For the sentimentalists, there is 1976 Olympian Kurt Thomas, 35, who earned a spot in the Olympic trials. Thomas had trained for the 1980 Olympics, which were boycotted by the United States, and after a layoff of nearly nine years, he resumed training in 1989 for the Barcelona Games. "Anything can happen in Baltimore," said Thomas, who finished 16th among the 18 men who made the trials.
Up from the ashes of an 11th-place humiliation at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, the men's team is so deep that the top 12 are separated by 2.26 points out of a total of 115.440. Only six and one alternate will be chosen.
"It will get hairy in Baltimore," said Nebraska coach Francis Allen, elected this weekend to coach the men's team in the Barcelona Games.
"That is an awesome meet to coach. They are so nervous. They have been dreaming about it for their whole lives. You can't water them down. You can't cool them down. They've been driving toward this for their whole lives.
"You are going to see the best we have in a small package."
"This meet is more important than the Olympics," said Scott Keswick of UCLA, who finished second to John Roethlisberger for the U.S. all-around title after a freakish fall on the high bar.
The men's field of 18 will be supplemented, too, by John Schlesinger of Nebraska and Chainey Umphrey of UCLA, both of whom received injury waivers to Baltimore.