At trials, judges have most to say Pressure is on to keep gymnastics scores low

June 27, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The 1996 U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials are very much two separate events. For the men, it's strictly about competition. For the women, it's mostly about politics.

For the men, it was compulsory to show up at the FleetCenter beginning tonight. For the women, it seemed to be optional.

When rising superstar Dominique Moceanu and former world champion Shannon Miller petitioned to let their all-around scores stand from the recent national championships in Knoxville, Tenn., to give their assorted injuries a chance to heal, the women's competition became little more than a floor exercise in futility for many of those vying for the seven spots.

Or do you really think that USA Gymnastics officials will exclude Moceanu and Miller from this year's Olympic team? And do you really think that some of the sport's relative unknowns are going to bump Moceanu and Miller off the team?

These kind of things happen in Hollywood, but they won't have the slightest chance of happening in Atlanta next month.

In truth, the most important participants might be the judges, who already are starting to feel some less-than-subtle pressure from Miller's coach, Steve Nunno.

"I think, in the back of their minds, the judges will know that the scores can't be that high," Nunno was quoted as saying last week.

Kelli Hill, the longtime coach of Dominique Dawes, who also will have Larissa Fontaine at the trials, said: "I think the judging will be fair. I don't think it will have anything to do with who's there and who's not."

With Moceanu and Miller out of the competition -- Moceanu, 14, has the more serious injury, a four-inch stress fracture in her leg, and Miller is nursing a sore wrist -- much of the attention will fall on Dawes.

Once the sport's blossoming star as a 15-year-old from Silver Spring competing in her first Olympics, Dawes has overcome her own injuries during the past two years and comes into the trials as healthy as she's been since the Games in Barcelona, Spain.

Now 19 and a part-time student at the University of Maryland the past year, Dawes is facing her last chance.

"I believe I'm pretty confident going in there," said Dawes, who, in the absence of Moceanu and Miller, swept the four event finals at the nationals for the second time in three years. "I want to go out there and hit my sets and just do the best job I can do."

Asked if she thought the absence of the two injured stars would raise the possibility of controversy surrounding lower scores, Dawes said: "I can't answer whether or not there will be complaints. What I can say is the scores will be up there. Our judges are committed to a fair process. Whether the scores will hold, time will tell."

There is no such worry in the men's competition. Unlike the women, the 14 men who advanced from Knoxville have to be here, regardless of whether they're injured. After the U.S. men finished ninth in last year's world championships -- they were a surprising third after the compulsories -- there is hope that the competitiveness of these trials will be a catalyst for the Americans to do well in Atlanta.

If last month's national championships are any indication, the trials will be close. It is expected to come down to either four-time national champion John Roethlisberger, 26, or Blaine Wilson, 21, a recent graduate of Ohio State. Wilson edged out Roethlisberger, the defending champion, at the nationals. The remaining five spots seem to be up for grabs.

"I have trouble with predictions," said former Naval Academy coach Peter Kormann, the new U.S. men's coach, who recently helped Ohio State to a national championship. "I can tell you this: We have worked hard with them. USA Gymnastics has turned our program around. We have a lot of positive guys out there right now. When they walk onto the floor, they're going to have a lot of pride."

Countdown

Days until opening ceremonies: 22.

Positive drug test: Eric Lamaze, a member of Canada's equestrian team, tested positive for cocaine June 5 in Calgary, Alberta, after finishing in second place, according to the Canadian Equestrian Federation. Lamaze, 28, who has the right to appeal, is expected to be banned for four years from all show jumping competition.

Train of thought: With New York officials talking about bidding for the 2008 Summer Games, comedian Jackie Mason suggests that "instead of high jumping, we can have turnstile jumping. We'd win that in a second."

On target: The board of directors of the Atlanta Olympics, meeting for the last time, reported that transportation and security plans are set and that all competition venues will be ready in time for the Summer Games.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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