It's politics as usual in picking women's gymnastics team

Phil Jackman

July 13, 1992|By Phil Jackman

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While it's pretty well agreed sports spends too much time in the courtroom, and, vice versa, here's hoping the U.S. Gymnastics Federation is somehow made to answer to a higher authority someday for its unforgivable handling of the women's Olympic team selection process.

Poor Kim Kelly thought she was all destined for Barcelona when she ran the gantlet of the national championships and the Olympic trials and finished among the top six. Maintain condition and form, as was always the requirement in the past, she figured, and she'd be all set. Enter politics, favoritism and just plain double dealing.

Two injured gymnasts were added to the training squad, and, after a few days of workouts, coaches, who carry commercial interests proudly, sliced the squad by one. Kim, go home. The remaining seven now move on and, 10 days from now, six will be named to compete, the seventh as alternate.

Remember, neither of the previously injured additions had beaten Kelly inhead-to-head competition, always the cornerstone of our selection process.

Watch, the young woman finishing fifth in the nationals and trials, maybe even the fourth-place finisher, will be bumped for, say, a pixie who attends head coach Bela Karolyi's school in Houston.

Such practices have been going on for a while now, and, unfortunately, they apparently carry the blessing of Mike Jacki, executive director of the gymnastic governing body. Listen to his justification for allowing coaches and not performance to make the final selections: "When you have the world's best decathlete, Dan O'Brien, not going to the Olympics, maybe the selection process in that sport has to be evaluated."

In other words, competition be hanged, let's feed everything to a computer and have coaches who might carry a vested interest pick our athletes in all sports and let it go at that. It's OK you no-heighted in the pole vault in the trials, Dan, just try not to do it again in Barcelona, huh?

* Fortunately, Jimmy Arias made it through three tough qualifying matches the last two days and into the NationsBank Tennis Classic getting under way in Washington today. Despite being faithful to the often unpopular hothouse D.C. stop on the men's tour for a dozen years, Arias was made to qualify while the tournament committee was passing out wild-card entries to college kids. Arias, a two-time finalist here, had his ranking dip when he underwent wrist surgery earlier in the year. Top seeds include last year's finalists, Andre Agassi and Petr Korda, Ivan Lendl, Aaron Krickstein and John McEnroe.

* The Houston Astros have gotten just one complete game out of their pitching staff through their first 87 games? That's monstrous.

* It's nothing short of heinous that top draft pick Tom Gugliotta didn't pull a muscle grabbing at the pen to get his signature on the five-year, $10.73 million contract offered by the Washington Bullets. But it's a situation created by the NBA itself.

Imagine a league that has been in business for going on 50 years allowing a bunch of agents to, in effect, establish a pay scale and a sliding scale of huge signing bonuses for youngsters who have proven virtually nothing. Incredible.

The Bullets are talking tough -- "final offer" and "we don't expect we're going to sign him for this season" -- but watch them back down like sheep and be all smiles the day "Gug" finally joins the team.

* Let's hear it for Dennis Erickson of the University of Miami. The football coach, playing in the Celebrity Golf Championship on national TV, scored 203 (95108) for the first two rounds, but allowed his scores to be posted, something not too many other athletes would do.

* Forget having hometown boy Ted Williams make a ceremonial first pitch during pre-game festivities at the All-Star Game in San Diego tomorrow night. Hand "Thumper" a bat and dollars to doughnuts he rips a single to right field if the opposing pitcher is silly enough to throw a strike.

* The latest Sony World Rankings have but one American among the top seven golfers on the planet . . . at least Fred Couples has the top spot.

* If the College Football Hall of Fame couldn't make it in Kings Mill, Ohio, situated next to a big amusement park, located proximate to several Midwestern cities and states and with golf and tennis tournaments nearby, one wonders how it will do in off-the-beaten-path South Bend, Ind. The accompanying attraction there, of course, is Notre Dame. But time has pretty well proven that the appeal of the college game is regional.

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