They have played tag across the gyms of America. One always just a step, a touch ahead of the other. Best friends and the best bets to be at the top of the standings at the end of the night.
Scott Keswick and John Roethlisberger. Then John and Scott. Last night, it was Scott. And then John.
Keswick, UCLA's power-packed puncher, was in first place after the compulsory round of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials at the Baltimore Arena.
Roethlisberger, Mr. Consistency from Minnesota, was fourth. A major break on the parallel bars had put some space between him and Keswick.
"It was just a freak thing," said Roethlisberger. He moved from a handstand to a move called a back toss -- a sort of back flip and recatch on the bars. But his arms broke down on the recatch and he fell off.
"It has never happened before and it probably won't happen in another 100 tries."
It has been Keswick who has broken in the past. Three times, Roethlisberger has edged him for the all-around title -- twice at the NCAA championships and last month at the U.S. Championships.
"The same thing happened to me at nationals," said Keswick, who moved to console his friend and rival after the meet.
"I slipped on the high bar on a trick I'd been doing for 10 years. John is one of the most solid competitors in the country, and it happened to him. No one is safe in this sport."
But it isn't over yet. And when the men break out their big-time tricks in tonight's 8 p.m. optionals at the Baltimore Arena, it may again be Scott and John. Or John and Scott.
"Compulsories are my weakest event and I knew I would drop down," said Roethlisberger, in first place going into the trials on the basis of his score at the U.S. Nationals, which counts for 30 percent.
"I'll just be happy to make the team."
Between Keswick and Roethlisberger stand Chris Waller, Keswick's UCLA teammate in second place, and Dominick Minicucci from Temple, in third.
And Jair Lynch, who trained in Columbia before going to Stanford, brought down the house with the highest score of the night -- a 9.9 on the vault that allowed him to finish in fifth place.
The first six make the U.S. men's Olympic team. The seventh goes to Barcelona as an alternate, and that's where the battle shapes up.
1988 Olympian Lance Ringnald, his chest muscle screwed to a new spot on the bone below his shoulder after he tore it loose at the world championships last September, is in seventh place.
But Nebraska's Patrick Kirksey, Oklahoma's Jarrod Hanks and UCLA's Chainey Umphrey are within two-tenths of him.
"Sixth place would be hard," said Ringnald, who trails Trent Dimas, his teammate at Gold Cup Gym in Albuquerque, N.M., by more than three-tenths.
"Seventh is a fight. If I have a good meet, I can hang on. And I have no problem with being an alternate."
Ringnald began the evening with a major mistake on the rings -- he failed to hold the Iron Cross -- and the judges hit him with an 8.85 score. "They killed me. So I figure I'm out of it, so have some fun."
"I didn't realize I was climbing back into it. I was just doing the gymnastics."
On his last event, the vault, Ringnald decided to go for a stick on his landing, just to end the meet with an exclamation point. It was worth 9.7 to the judges and he bounced from 11th to seventh.
Meanwhile, the comebacks of a pair of other Olympians were fading.
Kurt Thomas, 37, came into this meet a remarkable 16th after nationals. And that is where he stayed, despite the squeals of little girls who probably were not born when he was a member of the 1976 team.
Charles Lakes, a 1988 Olympian, finished 20th last night.
Stanford's Tim Ryan, in third place when the meet began, dropped almost out of sight after the second rotation.
He scored a low 9.35 on the floor exercises to drop into seventh. Then on his second event, he missed a double leg circle on the pommel horse and fell off the apparatus. He missed his dismount and scored only an 8.55 to fall to 12th, where he remained.
Meanwhile, Lynch was moving up -- from seventh before the meet began to fifth after two rotations, where he remained.
All-around standings (combined score: 30 percent championships, 70 percent Olympic trials) -- 1. Scott Keswick, UCLA, 83.346; 2. Chris Waller, UCLA, 82.860; 3. Dominick Minicucci, Temple, 82.614; 4. John Roethlisberger, Minnesota, 82.470; 5. Jair Lynch, Stanford, 82.206; 6. Trent Dimas, Gold Cup, 82.200; 7. Lance Ringnald, Gold Cup, 81.786; 8. Patrick Kirksey, Nebraska, 81.714; 9. Jarrod Hanks, Oklahoma, 81.690; 10. x-Chainey Umphrey, UCLA, 81.576; 11. Jay Caputo, OTC, 81.498; 12. Bob Stelter, Nebraska, 81.438; 13. Tim Ryan, Stanford, 81.312; 14. Mark Warburton, Nebraska, 81.138; 15. Kyle Asano, Stanford, 80.844; 16. Kurt Thomas, OTC, 80.736; 17. Dennis Harrison, Nebraska, 80.592; 18. Mark McKiernan, Minnesota, 80.478; 19. x-Tom Schlesinger, Nebraska, 79.416; 20. Charles Lakes, Olympic Sun, 79.260.
x-scores based on Weighted Olympic Trials scores only.
Seeing the trials
Where: Baltimore Arena
Schedule: Women's optionals, 2:30 p.m.; men's optionals, 8 p.m.
TV: Channels 2, 4. Today, 2-6 p.m., women's optionals; tomorrow, 4-5 p.m., taped men's optionals
Tickets: Unused complimentary tickets for the women's optionals, previously sold out, are being released. There are about 500 in the $75, $50 and $30 categories. The $75 and $35 tickets are available through (410) 481-SEAT. The $50 tickets are available only at the Arena box office. There are good men's seats available in the $50, $30, $25 and $20 categories.