Meet starts Thursday, but no picks guaranteed

Updated: June 24, 2004, 2:03 AM ET
Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The gymnastics were mostly mental the day before the Olympic trials.

Instead of talking about tumbling and gold medals, USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi spent about a half-hour at his news conference Wednesday trying to explain a selection process that seems to get more confusing by the day.

The crux of the issue is that after trials conclude Sunday, not a single member of the women's team will have a guaranteed spot on the Olympic team. Instead, the official invitations will go out July 18, when a camp at team coordinator Martha Karolyi's training facility concludes.

The men, meanwhile, head into competition not knowing whether their whole team will be named this weekend or whether they, as well, will have to wait until July.

Some might think the lack of finality cheapens the trials, a four-day event that NBC paid big money to televise and fans will pay up to $200 a ticket to attend.

Colarossi disagrees.

"A lot of people like to watch gymnastics," he said. "If you're not going to Athens and you live in the United States, this is your chance to see what I think are the best athletes in the world."

Under the women's selection procedures, the top two finishers at trials earn spots on the Olympic team "pending demonstration of readiness at Olympic Team Selection Camp." The other four will be chosen from a roster of at least nine gymnasts who will attend the camp.

The term "readiness" is sticky, though, and became the focus of Colarossi's news conference.

Colarossi was so concerned with the meaning that he went to the selection committee and asked for a definition, which he explained was, "First, not injured. And second, at about the same shape as at the trials."

He called the possibility of a top-two finisher at trials being declared unready at Karolyi's camp "unthinkable," and insisted those top two finishers were virtual locks for the Olympic team.

But Karolyi had a much different explanation when asked what her definition of "readiness" was.

"It sounds simple, but it's not that simple," she said. "It's doing routines cleanly. Are you confident you can handle it and don't have trouble spots in routines? Are you so confident in your mind about the routine that anytime you have to go and do it, it's very simple? Some gymnasts are like that. Others get disturbed under different conditions."

The favorites for the top two spots are Carly Patterson and Courtney Kupets, who tied for the national title earlier this month. Even if they finish out of the top two, they are the two most decorated gymnasts in the country over the last two years, and it would be hard to imagine leaving either off the Olympic team.

After that, though, the choosing gets tough, and not just because this is the deepest American roster ever.

In the team finals in Athens, three gymnasts will compete on each event and all three scores will count. That's unlike previous Olympics, where five or six gymnasts competed and the lowest score was thrown out.

"There is no space for a mistake," Colarossi said. "If you make a mistake, you just drop and you're gone."

That means the selection committee has to take some specialists -- experts in one or two events -- even if it's at the expense of a gymnast who might be more well rounded.

"That selection committee, it seems like they have the hardest job they've ever had in history," said Tasha Schwikert, the only remaining 2000 Olympian among the women. "I really don't know what they're thinking."

The men, meanwhile, will name two athletes to the Olympic team when their competition is over Saturday. The two will be the top combined scorers from nationals and trials. Three-time national champion and defending world champ Paul Hamm is a prohibitive favorite to get one of the guaranteed spots.

The other is in the air, as is the rest of the men's selection procedure.

Top gymnasts Blaine Wilson (torn biceps) and Jason Gatson (back) each missed nationals with injuries. The decision of whether to name a team this week or wait until July almost certainly will be made after the men's committee sees them compete.

"I'd like to leave here with our Olympic team," said men's team coordinator Ron Galimore. "I think that's what the committee would like to do. If we have a team when we leave, we can prepare the way we planned four years ago instead of maybe having guys do things they wouldn't normally have to do at the camp."

It would give the men closure.

The women, meanwhile, have no shot at that until Karolyi's camp is over.

"It's not like it's a surprise," said Al Fong, who coaches Terin Humphrey and Courtney McCool, two gymnasts squarely on the bubble. "We've been talking about it for four years. And we've been practicing it for four years. It's not a big deal."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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