One fluke landing may cost Borden her dream of lifetime

Ken Rosenthal

June 12, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

At the start, Amanda Borden's parents sat two seats away from each other, separated by an aunt and uncle. After the vault, the family played musical chairs. Patty and Doug Borden needed to be next to each other. You know, for moral support.

"Just one event," Doug advised Patty, but the truth was, that one event probably shattered Amanda's Olympic dream. Later she would describe her poor landing as "a fluke." But for a gymnast on the bubble in these Olympic Trials, that's all it takes.

She trained eight years for this, and by tomorrow it all might be gone. At the end of the night she was in 10th place, after what her mother called her worst compulsories ever. Of course, there haven't been too many. Amanda is only 15.

Only 15, but by the next Olympics in 1996, she'll probably be past her prime. This was it for the 4-foot-9, 81-pound high-school freshman from Finneytown, Ohio, the girl with the smile so bright, the Cincinnati sportscasters call her "Pepsodent."

Six women and an alternate will go to the Summer Games in Barcelona, although as many as eight could qualify for a pre-Olympics training camp July 7-10 in Tampa, Fla. The optionals are tomorrow, but Patty Borden said, "I'm not as hopeful now."

The parents, like the athletes, invest so much, and one wrong twist, one split-second mistake, can ruin the entire thing. It doesn't seem fair, yet thousands across America get swept away in the pursuit of Olympic glory every four years.

It's real, all right, and the Bordens are proof. They're middle-class people from a suburb 10 miles outside of Cincinnati, Doug the director of surgical services at a local hospital, Patty a medical assistant to an OB/GYN. They drove 9 1/2 hours to Baltimore for the big weekend.

Amanda, the nation's fifth-ranked woman, was flown in by the U.S. Gymnastics Federation. But her parents couldn't afford round-trip plane tickets, not after spending $700-800 a month on her training the past several years.

"Yeah, we're in debt up to our ears, but I'd do it all over again," Patty said before last night's competition at the Baltimore Arena. "There are people who question it. Our parents do. But this is the chance of a lifetime."

So there they were last night, sitting in the ninth row, trying not to think about Barcelona. This is the Borden family vacation for 1992. How would they pay their way to Spain? "I've got a bank cased in Baltimore," Doug said, joking.

Doug wore a black T-shirt with white letters that said "Amanda's Dad." That's how he's known in Finneytown, as Amanda's dad. "He goes to the bank, and they don't know him," Patty said. "They say, 'Oh, you're Amanda's dad,' and cash his check."

Of course, Doug and Patty aren't the only members of the Borden entourage in town. There was Amanda's 18-year-old brother Bryan. Her aunt Kathy, uncle Bill and cousin Bob Schnyder. And Patty's longtime friends, Lynne Ruhl and Shaun McLean.

Doug and Patty held placards with the number "10," the better to signify a perfect score for Amanda. Lynne Ruhl was so anxious to capture every moment, she even took a picture of the Bordens being interviewed by a reporter.

You see, Amanda had come such a long way, come from an unheralded club in Cincinnati, come despite injuries that nearly forced her to retire. "There's other kids with the talent, but not the sparkle," said her coach, Mary Lee Tracy. "You could tell it was in her heart."

It had to be. In the spring of 1991, she broke the growth plate on her left elbow. She trained with a cast to compete in the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, then withdrew the day before the competition because of a pulled right hamstring.

The hamstring bothers her to this day; Amanda massages it between events. She also took six weeks off this winter after contracting a disease in her right elbow where her bones didn't grow correctly, a malady common to young pitchers in baseball.

"It takes a toll," Doug said, shaking his head. "She's consistently injured. It's always something. She has a bum thumb now. But she said, 'Dad, I don't care what it is, I'm not going to the doctor until this is all done.' "

She wakes at 6 a.m., trains from 7-9:30, leaves school early at 2, then trains again until 8. Patty said Finneytown High is so cooperative about tutoring, Amanda remains an honor student.

Her GPA?

"9.4," Patty gushed. "I mean, 3.4."

Scores, grades, they all get mixed together. Last night was the culmination, and last night Amanda wasn't quite her best -- not in the vault, and not on the beam. "The pressure will be on [in optionals]," Tracy said. "She's going to have to hit every event. She knows that."

Yet, Amanda said, "I haven't felt very nervous. It's a dream to be at the Trials." After the final event, she walked across the Arena, spotted her parents and smiled. It was her Pepsodent smile. A gold-medal smile. A smile that made the entire journey seem worthwhile.

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