2 gymnasts from Md. will try to stay on roll

At American Cup, Postell, Kupets representing U.S.

Gymnastics

March 01, 2003|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

FAIRFAX, Va. - Three months ago, Courtney Kupets and Ashley Postell sent the gymnastics world tumbling when they came from nowhere to win gold medals at the World Gymnastics Championships in Hungary.

The 16-year-olds won't be sneaking up on the rest of the field today, but they'll have a hometown edge at the American Cup, the first competition in the series that leads to this year's world championships and the 2004 Olympics.

Kupets, from Gaithersburg, won her medal in November in the uneven bars. Postell, from Cheverly, topped the field in the balance beam.

Both girls say that performing before friends and family in the Patriot Center at George Mason University will be a confidence booster, rather than create additional pressure.

"We'll feed off the crowd. We'll feel the response from the crowd," Postell said.

Rounding out the women's squad will be Annia Hatch, who finished fourth at the 2002 national gymnastics championship, and Carly Patterson, the reigning national junior all-around champion. The U.S. men's team consists of Blaine Wilson, Sean Townsend, Brett McClure and Guard Young.

The eight Americans will compete against eight international gymnasts. Past American Cup winners include Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, Kurt Thomas and Bart Conner.

The emotional ties between the two Maryland competitors and Dawes, the Olympic medalist from Silver Spring, are strong. Kupets trains with Kelli Hill, Dawes' coach, and Postell considers Dawes her role model.

For Kupets, this will be her second American Cup. Last year, she won the silver for all-around performance by finishing second in the uneven bars and third in balance beam and floor exercises.

As a member of the national team for six years - twice as long as Kupets - Postell is no stranger to top-level competition. She won the bronze for her all-around performance at the 2002 national championship and the gold medal in balance beam and silver in the vault at the 2002 Zakharova Cup in Kiev, Ukraine.

The American women will face strong competition from Russian Elena Zamolodchikova, a double gold medalist at the 2000 Olympics and gold medalist in the vault at the 2002 world championships.

The U.S. team hopes the American Cup is the beginning of the road to redemption after its embarrassing performance at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, where organizational infighting rattled the team and resulted in a fourth-place finish.

Certainly, the women's team shows promise, with nearly a dozen senior athletes at world-class level and a like number of junior athletes waiting in the wings.

That depth was needed last week, when coaches had to substitute Hatch for Tasha Schwikert, the two-time national champion who is still recovering from ankle surgery. Hatch was a member of the Cuban national team until she moved to the United States in 1997.

Women's national team coach Martha Karolyi said she didn't want to put Schwikert in the position of competing at less than full strength.

"Tasha fully understands. She will be back for the second half of the season," Karolyi said.

But the U.S. men's squad, shut out of the medals at the world championships, remains a little less focused. Wilson, the team anchor, two-time Olympian and former American Cup winner, is six months removed from surgery on his left shoulder. Townsend, a member of the 2000 Olympic team and 2001 world championships gold medalist, is recovering from a shin injury that limited his training. McClure and Young have twice competed in the world championships.

Wilson said the American Cup allows the U.S. team to make a statement before the Olympics and in return "see what the world has to offer."

Today, that will include Jordan Jovtchev of Bulgaria, who won two bronze medals at the 2000 Olympics and finished second on the rings and third in the floor exercises at the 2002 world championships.

"It's very important to come out strong with the four guys we have and win the top four slots," Wilson said. "We're very capable of doing that."

The competition will be televised live by NBC starting at 4 p.m.

At a glance

What:American Cup

When: Today

Where:Patriot Center, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.

Time/TV:2:30 p.m.; 4 p.m. on Ch. 11

Tickets:Ticketmaster and Patriot Center box office.

Who to watch: Marylanders Courtney Kupets and Ashley Postell and 2000 Olympics double gold medalist Elena Zamolodchikova of Russia. Two-time U.S. Olympian Blaine Wilson and 2000 Olympics double bronze medalist Jordan Jovtchev of Bulgaria.

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