Thursday, June 24, 2004

Olympic gymnast hopefuls face next step

This weekend's Trials could get them closer to making team

By Neil Schmidt
Enquirer staff writer

Qualifying for the Olympic gymnastics teams is a three-step process. Yet there's no guarantee Greater Cincinnati's two hopefuls will reach the third step.

Samantha Sheehan and Mohini Bhardwaj will participate in the second part, the Olympic Trials, which begin today in Anaheim, Calif. Regardless of their finish this weekend, they must be invited by the United States' International Elite Committee to move on to the final stage: Team Selection Camp, July 13-18 in Houston.

Between 10 and 12 female gymnasts are expected to get invitations, which will be extended Sunday night at the Trials' conclusion. In Houston, a three-person committee headed by national team director Martha Karolyi will select the six-member Olympic team and three alternates.

The top two finishers at Trials are all but guaranteed spots at the camp - and probably on the Olympic team. After those two, though, a gymnast could finish anywhere from third to last and still get an invitation to Houston.

"It's out of my control," said Sheehan, an 18-year-old from Villa Hills. "But if I do what I'm supposed to do and hit my routines, they're going to select me for the camp."

The first stage of qualifying was U.S. Championships three weeks ago. The top 12 finishers advanced to Trials, plus a few more athletes who petitioned for spots in this event after missing the Championships with injury. Bhardwaj, 25, placed 12th at that meet, and Sheehan had a successful petition after pulling out of that meet with a strained rotator cuff.

"I had gotten a cortisone shot before I left (for that meet), and it was still really sore," Sheehan said. "Now I'm back to full strength."

Bhardwaj, a Cincinnati native who now lives in Los Angeles, is trying to cap a comeback that began last summer after a one-year retirement.

The women compete Friday and Sunday. The finals will be shown live on NBC beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday.

U.S. Gymnastics Trials

When: Today through Sunday.

Where: Anaheim, Calif.

At stake: 10 to 12 individuals will be invited at meet's end to Team Selection Camp.

TV: Ch. 5, 22 (8-10 p.m. Saturday, 7-9 p.m. Sunday).



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