COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A smile broke through the glower on Bela Karolyi's face.
The mountain of a man who pushes those tiny dolls to greatness held his head in mock amazement and then thrust his big paws skyward.
And then he used them to hug tiny, size-1 Kim Zmeskal.
The little girl who had disappointed him so with a second-place finish in the compulsory round had just scored a 10 in the vault during the optionals last night.
It was her first event en route to a third straight U.S. Gymnastics all-around championship -- and almost certainly an Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, Spain.
It was a Yurchenko vault, and she did it perfectly. A round-off to the vault, a back hand-spring onto it and a back somersault with a full twist off of it.
And she looked like a grenade going off.
When her only challenger scratched, Zmeskal's title was assured. Shannon Miller, the surprise leader after Friday night's compulsories, dislocated her elbow at the end of March and her coach decided she was not prepared for the demanding optional routines.
Fear not. The rivalry will resume in Baltimore at the Olympic gymnastics trials June 6-13. The top 12 women and top 18 men from this weekend's competition will compete for six spots on each Olympic squad, plus one alternate spot.
In addition, Miller and Betty Okino, Zmeskal's teammate at Karolyi's, have been granted injury waivers to the trials.
Karolyi even spared one of his rare, approving smiles for Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring, Md., after she scored a 9.9 on the balance beam.
She added a 9.9 in the floor exercises -- to the shrieking approval of the crowd -- and finished fourth overall -- certainly with range of an Olympic team spot.
"I was really aware of the crowd," Dawes said. "And it motivated me. Hopefully the crowd in Baltimore will motivate me to do better in my compulsories."
Karolyi's good humor did not last long after Zmeskal's perfect vault. On her next event, the uneven bars, judges gave her a 9.65 on the same routine that earned her a 9.925 at the world championships in Paris.
And Karolyi blew up.
"They are the sorriest bunch of housewives who have nothing in common with gymnastics," he said of the women judges.
"It is a perfect routine. No deductions. And they are scoring her with babies."
Zmeskal ignored Karolyi's temper tantrum as best she could.
"I don't care about the scores or the judging. That is Bela's job. And I know he does everything in our best interests, and I totally trust him.
"Altogether, I am very pleased."
Among the men, NCAA all-around champion John Roethlisberger Minnesota edged UCLA's Scott Keswick for the men's title after Keswick fell during his high-bar routine.
"I was putting stuff in my bag. I looked up, and I saw Scott fall.
"I knew the door was open for me, and all I had to do was hit."
Keswick entered yesterday's optional event at the St. John Arena just five-hundredths of a point behind Roethlisberger after Thursday's compulsories.
The two would duel it out just as they had done in the last two NCAA championships.
But Keswick finished second to Roethlisberger for a third time.
After overtaking him by two-tenths of a point with a 9.9 score on the parallel bars -- Keswick earned it with a death-defying double somersault between the bars -- Keswick fell back against the high bar and out of the running for the all-around title. He earned just 9.0 for that event while Roethlisberger was scoring a 9.7 on the still rings.
"I did the best ring routine of my career and really stuck the landing," Roethlisberger said.
But the victory was bittersweet. Roethlisberger and Keswick, who competes for UCLA, are great friends. They are never more pleased than when one has to bump the other out to win.
Keswick completed his last two events in obvious pain. But he scored a 9.7 on the floor exercises -- wincing with every somersault -- and a 9.6 on the pommel horse.
"It was just a fluke thing," Keswick said of his fall. He was above the bar in a sitting position, hands braced while he moved through a stoop dislocate on the way to an inverted giant.
"My hand slipped out and I came down on the bar," Keswick said. He bruised his back just to the right of his tailbone.
"I knew I was just ahead of John in the standings. I went all out. If I had done just an average high-bar routine I would have won.
"But that's the way I am. Now I will try to go out and win the Olympic trials."
He doesn't have to win. He just has to be among the top seven to make the team for Barcelona -- six competitors and an alternate.
That's what Kurt Thomas and Charlie Lakes have to do, too. Yes, Kurt Thomas. You remember him from the 1976 Olympics?
He's 35, and he will make the trip to Baltimore.
"This is the greatest day of my life," said Thomas, who finished 16th to climax a comeback begun 2 1/2 years ago after a nine-year layoff.
"The age thing," he said, "has been blown out of proportion. I've been blessed with a young body."
So has Lakes. He's 27 and a veteran of the 1988 team. He returned to training six months ago -- and was actually carried from event to event yesterday because of an ankle injury on the vault, his first event.
But he finished 18th. The last spot on the Baltimore team.
"I thought it would be physically impossible to finish," Lakes said. as surprised as anyone."