With Weller, Towson holds torch to best

Olympian: Four-time German champion Gabi Weller makes the vault from Barcelona to Towson, hoping to help college land its first national berth since 1990.

Gymnastics

April 01, 2000|By Katherine Arcieri | Katherine Arcieri,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Not every university has the opportunity to have an Olympian on its gymnastics team, but Towson University hit the jackpot when Gabi Weller, a four-time German national champion who competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, joined the Tigers last fall.

Weller, a petite, 24-year-old junior who is one of four gymnasts from Europe on the team, has led the Tigers to a No. 23 national ranking and a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Region 6 meet tonight at the University of Georgia. The top two teams in the six-team meet will advance to the NCAA national championship meet at Boise State April 13-15. Towson, which has qualified for the regionals 13 of the past 14 years, hasn't been to the national meet since 1990.

The Tigers will compete against top seed and defending national champion Georgia, No. 2 seed Brigham Young, No. 3 North Carolina State, No. 4 Maryland and No. 6 George Washington.

Though she is a veteran of international competition, Weller says college gymnastics has at least one major advantage for her.

"This is more fun," she said. "Maybe it's because I'm older now and I can enjoy it more."

Weller, this year's Eastern Atlantic Gymnastics League Co-Gymnast of the Year and a three-time winner of the EAGL Gymnast of the Week award this season, has made history at Towson with several record-breaking performances:

In a meet against West Virginia on Jan. 28, Weller broke the school record in the all-around competition with a score of 39.52.

At the Towson Invitational on Feb. 20, she took first place in vault, her best event, with a 9.825 and placed second on the uneven bars, her favorite event, with a 9.90.

At North Carolina on March 3, Weller placed first on the vault and won the all-around competition with a score of 39.35, the second-highest in Towson history.

In Towson's final home meet, against New Hampshire and Pittsburgh, Weller placed first on the vault and achieved a perfect 10.0 on the uneven parallel bars, a first in Towson history. Teammate Heather Hanson also set a school record with a 10.0 in the floor routine.

"She's our best all-around," Towson coach Dick Filbert said of Weller. "She's our best vaulter and best bar-worker. Gabi is the school record-holder in three of five events."

Weller, of Heuchelheim, Germany, joins junior Charlotte Andreasen, a five-time national champion of Denmark; junior Niina Parjanen, a two-time national champion of Finland; and Rufa Kriebich, a four-time national German champion, as Europeans on the Tigers.

Towson is one of the few schools that recruit in Europe. Filbert goes to Europe fairly often but says the process is difficult.

"It takes a lot of time and it's painstaking," said Filbert. "They have to be the right age, the right [school] background. Gabi was supposed to come last year. She tore her ACL [anterior cruciate ligament in her knee] and we didn't know if she was coming at all. This last spring, she returned to competition in Germany really just to test her knee out. Then she came in September."

Though proud of her Olympic experience, Weller, a physical education major who plans to graduate in May, doesn't advertise the fact.

"I wanted them to know me as Gabi, not because I was in the Olympics," she said.

Weller started gymnastics at age 6 and competed in her first World Championship in Indianapolis at 15, where her German team placed 10th. A year later, she was 14th in the vault in the Paris World Championship, and in 1993 she placed 28th in the all-around at the World Championships in Birmingham, England.

At the 1992 Olympics, Weller's German team placed ninth even though all team members fell on the uneven bars.

Weller's parents, Karl-Ludwig and Elisabeth Weller, were gymnasts as well and met at the European Championships. Elisabeth Weller is a gymnastics coach and helped train her daughter while in Germany.

"We worked as a team, my mom and I," said Weller. "We did everything together. She was with me all the time except for [international] competition."

Weller's international career ended in 1996 after the German team failed to qualify for the Atlanta Olympics. But she wasn't done competing, with the help of Filbert. After faxing Weller a recruiting letter, he followed up with a visit to Germany, despite her knee surgery.

"I always wanted to go to America," she said. "I got this fax from Towson and I was thinking maybe I should do that. And then I did it. I didn't want to find another school, and I liked the coaches a lot. I didn't think of going anywhere else."

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