Dawes hits right note in routine Marylander second in gymnastics start

June 29, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Dominique Dawes came into the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials here at the FleetCenter a lot healthier and seemingly a lot happier than she's been since going up on the world's stage four years ago in Barcelona.

The most recent and potentially serious injuries, stress fractures of her wrist and foot in the past year, have healed. The last goal of her career as a gymnast, making her second U.S. Olympic team, is in sight.

"I feel like I'm in control of what I do," Dawes said earlier this week. "I'm focusing only on the positive."

There are a lot of positives on which Dawes can focus. There was the recent U.S. championships in Knoxville, Tenn., in which Dawes swept the finals for the second time in three years after a nearly disastrous effort in the compulsories. And then there was last night's compulsories, in which the 19-year-old from Gaithersburg showed the exuberance from her "Awesome Dawesome" days and the experience that she hopes will carry her to a medal or two next month in Atlanta.

Dawes received the loudest ovation from a near-sellout crowd of 16,323 prior to the start of the competition -- decidedly louder than those for injured stars Dominique Moceanu and Shannon Miller.

Those cheers grew louder over the course of the evening as Dawes executed three of the four routines to near perfection, and finished the night trailing only Jaycie Phelps among the 14 competing here as well as Miller and Moceanu in the overall standings.

The one glitch came on the balance beam and, however minor, still cost Dawes the lead going into into tomorrow's optionals. It helped Phelps, who finished second behind Miller and just ahead of Moceanu at the recent U.S. nationals, move in front of Dawes by .119 of a point with a total of 46.887.

After a sloppy start on the uneven bars, 1992 Olympian Kerri Strug won both the vault and floor exercise to move into third. Amy Chow, an 18-year-old from San Jose, Calif., who got off to a great start before back problems caused her performance to falter on the balance beam and floor, was right behind Strug.

With the scores of Miller and Moceanu from the recent nationals way ahead of any competitors, the optionals will come down to fifth place being for the final spot on the team.

Going into tomorrow's competition, Amanda Borden of Cincinnati is fifth. But no fewer than six others are within .100 of a point of Borden. And, according to Dawes' coach, the traditionally high scores at the trials were noticeably lower than those at nationals as a result of Miller and Moceanu successfully petitioning to have their scores held.

"I think there was a lot of discussion and talking between coaches, athletes and judges that in turn was related by the media," said Kelli Hill.

"I don't think the judging was unfair, but they were obviously not using the same scoring system [used at nationals]. It was a protective measure for the two who were petitioning. I don't feel it was wrong to do that, but it was different."

The scoring did not, and likely will not, affect Dawes. It was during her worst moment last night that Dawes was at her best. A wobbly start on the balance beam left her legs crooked going into her shoulder roll. A less-experienced gymnast, or a less-confident Dawes, might have fallen right off the beam, as she nearly did with the same mistake at the national championships.

This time, Dawes steadied herself and finished the routine cleanly, receiving a score of 9.637 for her effort. She wound up the evening with a solid, though not perfectly timed-to-the-music floor exercise for which she received a score of 9.75.

"I didn't let the first big mistake of the night affect the rest of my set," said Dawes. "I just blocked it out of my mind."

It is something Hill has been working on with Dawes at her gymnasium in Gaithersburg. Hill's message must be getting through.

"We have been working very hard on her ability to recover," said Hill. "When she made mistakes in the past, she felt the routine was over."

Asked about Dawes' chances to make the team, she said: "It's a lot better now being in fourth than in 10th [after the compulsories at the national championships]. Barring any major disaster, I think she'll be fine."

So will Miller and Moceanu, disaster or not. According to the calculations of Moceanu's coach, Bela Karolyi, both have mathematically made the team.

With the compulsories counting 60 percent of the total toward making the Olympic team, it will come down to the 40 percent optionals before the team is determined.

Results, 12C

Pub Date: 6/29/96

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