Gymnasts hold out at championship Coaches have final word on athletes' skipping of individual competition

June 11, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Kelli Hill saw the somewhat bizarre scene unfold Saturday night at the University of Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena, when four of the biggest names in women's gymnastics failed to compete in -- and nearly didn't show for -- the individual events of this year's U.S. Championships.

But the longtime coach of Dominique Dawes, who swept all four gold medals for the second time in three years, believed that her counterparts did the right thing. "You have to protect your athlete at all times," Hill said yesterday from her gym in Gaithersburg.

So why did Dawes, who finished 10th in the compulsories and sixth in the all-around competition, compete while defending champion Dominique Moceanu, former world and U.S. champion Shannon Miller as well as Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps abstained?

"Dom is healthy and she wanted to compete," said Hill. "She knew she had the highest score from the optionals. To be perfectly honest, we thought we could take it all whether they were there or not."

Though USA Gymnastics officials did a remarkable job at damage control by getting all four noncompeting gymnasts to the arena to explain their situations to the crowd -- "We wanted to save our bodies," said Borden -- it speaks volumes about the sport's biggest problem.

It shows who's running the sport: the coaches. None of the four was injured to the extent where she might have risked not being able to compete at the Olympic trials in Boston later this month. When asked what the injuries were, both the athletes and coaches were hard-pressed to come up with legitimate answers.

What upset some, including Mary Lee Tracy, the coach of both Borden and Phelps, was that the athletes were forced to come back to the gym from their respective hotels and make up an excuse for the crowd. Though it wasn't the first time the top gymnasts begged off, it might have been the first time they were told to beg for a crowd's forgiveness.

"I don't know why they keep talking about injuries; none of these kids are injured," said Tracy. "At a meet like this, all the gymnasts have nagging things. But it just makes more sense [to hold them out]. Last night was such a long, tough night. And every event you enter at this point has to have a purpose. There is really no purpose to this."

The parents of 1992 Olympian and current Olympic hopeful Kerri Strug reportedly were incensed that their daughter was forced to compete by Bela Karolyi, while Moceanu, considered by most the country's only gold-medal hope in Atlanta, was not.

Meanwhile, Dawes reacted in her typically nonplused manner. Despite Hill's contention, she certainly didn't get carried away with sweeping the event. "I really feel good about my performance tonight, but I'd rather go back and do the preliminaries again," she said.

Jett has shot at team

She's only a sophomore at the University of Florida, but Kisha Jett of Columbia has a pretty good shot at making this year's U.S. Olympic team. Actually, she'll get two shots when the track and field trials start Friday in Atlanta.

Jett, who also played soccer at Hammond High, is coming off an impressive third-place performance in the 100 meters at the recent NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.

She has the 16th-best time in the 100, but has beaten 16 of the 28 who have qualified for the trials. Jett also has the seventh-best time this year among American women in the 200. The top three finishers will make the U.S team in each event, but the top six will be taken to Atlanta with the possibility of running in relays.

"She's due for a big drop [in time]," Tom Jones, Jett's coach, said from Gainesville yesterday. "I think she's awfully talented."

Jett was bothered by a hip injury for most of the indoor season, and reinjured it shortly before the outdoor season began. Jones said that Jett is healthy, as evidenced by her times this year of 11.31 in the 100 and 22.84 in the 200.

Jett will have an interesting schedule in Atlanta this week: After the women's 100 is run Friday and Saturday, she'll fly back to Florida for a calculus class and then return next week for the 200 preliminaries.

Park has way to go

The centerpiece for the Summer Games is expected to be the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. But the $50 million park, which was supposed to be ready a month ago, seems far from completion.

According to a story in the Dallas Morning News "with less than 40 days to go, cement has yet to be poured in some areas, massive pavilions are still being erected and the place looks more like the set from the hit television show 'M*A*S*H' than the beautiful urban park it is slated to become."

Local Olympic officials have been saying all along that everything will be ready for the July 19 opening ceremonies. But the executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which manages the park, seems cautiously optimistic at best.

"I asked ACOG [Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games] if they could move the start of the Olympics back about a month for us," Dan Graveline told the Morning News, reportedly with a laugh. "They said, 'We don't think so.' "

Countdown Days until opening ceremonies: 38.

Fenced in: Adam Skarbonkiewicz denied Michael D'Asaro II a spot on the U.S. fencing team by defeating D'Asaro, 15-13, in a gold medal sabre match. Skarbonkiewicz cannot qualify for the U.S. team because he is not an American citizen; his win allowed Thomas Strzalkowski of State College, Pa., to fill the final spot on the U.S. team.

Beat goes on: The U.S. national baseball team, getting bases-empty homers from four players, beat Nicaragua, 6-2, in Millington, Tenn., to extend its winning streak to 25 games.

Stadium update: Georgia suspended the license of engineer Brian Miraki, who designed the Olympic Stadium light towers, one of which collapsed and killed a construction worker last year.

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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