Moceanu stays above debate over U.S. team selection Gymnast's main focus is getting fit for Games

June 28, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The television cameras followed Dominique Moceanu's every move yesterday at the FleetCenter. From the press box where Moceanu and the other gymnasts here for the U.S. Olympic trials conducted an hour's worth of interviews to the floor of the mostly empty arena where Moceanu stretched and the others practiced for tonight's compulsory program.

It seemed only fitting.

It didn't matter that Moceanu wasn't competing in the trials because of a stress fracture in her right leg. If anything, her absence from the competition was a bigger story because it raised questions about her ability to perform at next month's Olympic Games and about the way the U.S. women's team is being selected. Moceanu is aware of the controversy, but is trying to stay clear of it.

"I just want to stay positive and get healthy," said Moceanu, who along with former world champion Shannon Miller petitioned to have their scores held from the recent national championships.

"The hardest part has been sitting out, because going to the Olympics has always been my dream."

Until her recent injury, Moceanu's career has followed a near-perfect script. The daughter of former Romanian junior gymnasts, Moceanu's family moved to Houston when she was 9 to have her work with the legendary Bela Karolyi. Last year, Moceanu became the youngest American gymnast ever to win a national championship. She was 13.

But the injury, which was diagnosed after Moceanu's leg gave out as she dismounted during a workout June 10, has thrown a sport familiar with controversy into further turmoil. There were reports that Moceanu could suffer permanent damage if she came back too fast, or too hard. The debate about the selection process -- which allows Miller and Moceanu to make the team should their scores remain higher than the sixth- and seventh-place finishers here -- rages on.

"In the end, it's the only way to do it," Karolyi said yesterday. "It's very important that the rules are clear-cut so we don't open a back door like we did in 1992."

Karolyi was referring to a situation that grew out of the trials in Baltimore, where two injured gymnasts were allowed to petition their way into a special camp before the Olympics and were eventually placed on the team headed to Barcelona, Spain. As a result of the ensuing controversy, a committee for USA Gymnastics changed its selection process. But there is still a loophole that would allow a top gymnast to find her way onto the team if she was injured during the trials.

Asked if there was pressure from outside influences such as NBC to have Moceanu on the team, USA Gymnastics president Kathy Scanlan said, "The selection process is not determined by NBC or the press, but by the judges who'll watch the competition. If Dominique Moceanu doesn't make the team, she's 14 and I hope to see her in four years. If she does make the team, I'm sure she'll do a very good job. . . . Our job is to put the very best team on the floor in Atlanta."

Though she is still receiving physical therapy that includes electrically stimulating the muscles to heal, Moceanu is already back in the gym. She has been cleared to work on routines that don't require landing on the leg, such as parts of her sets on the balance beam and the parallel bars. She hopes to be fully recovered by the time the team's training camp is scheduled to open in Greensboro, N.C., on July 7.

"I have to be back [training] next week and have all my routines ready by July 13," she said. "But I know when I come back there'll still be some pain. I have to be tough."

Karolyi doesn't think Moceanu will be 100 percent by the time the Olympic competition begins July 21 and won't know to what degree his latest prodigy is hurting. It was Moceanu's stoicism that prevented her coach from knowing that she was injured in the first place. Moceanu finished third in the all-around competition at the recent nationals, two spots behind Miller.

"She has a very high threshold for pain," Karolyi said. "She does not show any desperate expression."

NOTES: In the men's compulsories last night, four-time national champion John Roethlisberger of Minneapolis regained the lead he lost to Blaine Wilson at the recent national championships after the opening rotation. Roethlisberger, 26, leads Wilson, 21, 160.683 to 159.450. The nationals counted for 60 percent of their scores. John McCready, a 21-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado, is in third place at 156.999. There are only 1.455 points separating seventh and third place. The top seven

finishers will go to Atlanta for the Olympics.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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