Monday, July 19, 2004

High expectations for Karolyi's team

U.S. Gymnastics

By Eddie Pells
The Associated Press

NEW WAVERLY, Texas - Cincinnati native Mohini Bhardwaj, Annia Hatch, Courtney McCool, Terin Humphrey and co-national champions Carly Patterson and Courtney Kupets survived their biggest test and were named to the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team Sunday.

Because of a change in scoring, every spot on the team is critical. Unlike previous Olympics, where five or six gymnasts competed in each event and the lowest score was thrown out, only three gymnasts will participate in each event and every score counts.

One fall, one misstep, and a team can kiss its medal hopes goodbye.

So national team coordinator Martha Karolyi put the gymnasts through the most intense selection process in the world. After already going through the national championships and Olympic trials last month, 13 gymnasts came here for one final two-day competition at the Karolyi ranch in the middle of Sam Houston State Forest.

This was no arena, but rather a sweltering gym packed with about 300 recreational gymnasts and their coaches, all lucky enough to have enrolled in Bela Karolyi's camp this week. The gym was so crowded, fans had to be turned away, scores of whom pressed their faces against the glass door, hoping to catch a glimpse of the team that will be favored to win gold in Athens.

"The girls who made it proved they can perform under any conditions," Martha Karolyi said.

Fans in the gym were right on top of the action, getting almost uncomfortably close to the athletes.

When the competition ended, Karolyi, the other two members of the selection committee and USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi huddled to make their choices. What had once seemed a monumental task became very easy, and Karolyi said it took only 10 minutes to decide the team.

Kupets, McCool, Patterson and Humphrey's names were announced first, no surprises to anyone. Karolyi then called Bhardwaj's name. Tears immediately filled the eyes of the 11-time All-American at UCLA, and she had to duck her head as she walked to exchange hugs with her teammates.

Then it was Hatch's turn. A wide grin spread across her face as she looked toward her husband and coach, Alan, and she, too, cried as she hugged her teammates.

Kelli Hill, Kupets' coach, was selected to oversee the squad.

Hill was head coach at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where the Americans finished fourth.

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