Saturday, June 5, 2004

Bhardwaj coming on strong



By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It took a year for Mohini Bhardwaj to realize she didn't want her last gymnastics memory to be of her own screams. And it took another year before the screams she heard came from fans, rooting this week for the 25-year-old and her comeback story.

The Cincinnati native enters tonight's finals of the U.S. Championships in Nashville in 10th place, needing to finish in the top 12 to advance to Olympic Trials later this month. This comes two years after an agonizing fall in the U.S. Championships in Cleveland, when she dislocated her elbow and retired.

Last summer, working three jobs, the two-time U.S. world championship team member and 11-time collegiate All-American got to thinking about the one line left open on her resume: Olympian.

"I didn't want to regret not having fulfilled everything I wanted to," Bhardwaj said.

So Bhardwaj, a UCLA grad now living in Los Angeles, returned to gymnastics. She has had to scrounge for money however possible for coaching and travel.

Her story made its way to Pamela Anderson, through a parent of another gymnast in Bhardwaj's gym, and the actress donated $20,000 to the cause.

"It was pretty amazing," Bhardwaj said.

Bhardwaj grew up in Cincinnati, training with Queen City Gymnastics, then moved to Florida at age 14. She was 10th in the qualifying process for the 1996 Olympics, narrowly missing being an alternate.

Yet three years into a college career that included two NCAA team titles and two individual-event crowns, Bhardwaj opted not to train for the 2000 Trials.

"My head wasn't in it," she said. "I was doing the college thing, and I wasn't in that frame of mind."

Though she's much older than most of her competitors in Nashville, she thinks experience could prove invaluable.

"I have the resume," she said. "I have the experience and the consistency. That's what this (Olympic) team is going to need."

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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