Sunday, July 11, 2004

Berths are on the line at camps this week

Olympic gymnastics

By Eddie Pells
The Associated Press

Summer camp is supposed to be all about fun and swimming and horseback riding and hot dogs, right? Not for those with designs of being on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

The American gymnasts embark this week on a pair of summer camps - one for the men, one for the women - that will feel nothing like a vacation.

The stakes are high, and the physical, mental and emotional pressure will be intense. On one hand, a good performance at camp could earn a gymnast a spot in the Olympics. On the other, a bad or indifferent showing could mark the end of his or her career.

All six gymnasts on the women's team will be named July 18, after a five-day training and tryout session at team coordinator Martha Karolyi's gym in New Waverly, Texas. The final two spots on the men's team will be determined Thursday at the camp in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Among the most-watched gymnasts will be Blaine Wilson (torn biceps) and Chellsie Memmel (broken foot), two key members of American teams past, both of whom are trying to prove they've healed from major injuries that threaten their chances for Athens.

"No one thought he could come back from this injury, but he did," said Wilson's coach, Miles Avery. "That's the heart of this young man. If he hasn't proven that to them yet, he'll train hard enough to prove it now."

One reason Wilson, 29, wants to make his third Olympics so badly is that the men are a good bet to win a team medal for the first time since the boycotted games of 1984. They have the reigning world champion in Paul Hamm and won a silver medal at last year's world championships.

The women, meanwhile, are arguably deeper and better than they were last year, when they won the worlds. That makes it tougher on Memmel, who knows better than anyone that past success guarantees nothing.

"All pressure does is keeps you from doing your job," said Memmel's coach, Jim Chudy. "You just have to set that aside and realize it's you and your skills."

Memmel is one of about six gymnasts - including Cincinnati native Mohini Bhardwaj - vying for essentially three remaining spots on the women's team. Karolyi will put the women through a series of workouts and a two-day competition. She'll add that data to what she gleaned from Trials and nationals, plus the last 10 months of workouts and meets, and try to come up with a winning team.

As for the men, Hamm and Brett McClure each made the team based on their one-two finishes from combined scores at nationals and Trials. After Trials, Jason Gatson and Morgan Hamm were chosen as wild cards.

That leaves two spots, and although Wilson has to be considered a favorite, he still has to show he has improved further from his torn biceps, the injury he endured in February.

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