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Dawes looks good, even though her ankle feels bad


Dominique Dawes is within a somersault of the U.S. Olympic " gymnastics team and still she will not let herself think those happy thoughts.

"I have to stay positive and stay focused and do hard workouts tomorrow," said the Silver Spring gymnast.

Dawes was in fifth place with room to move up after last night's compulsory routines at the Baltimore Arena.

Tomorrow afternoon, with her family here and her friends squealing her name, she will likely perform her optional routines with her characteristic flair and energy, and she will be a member of the Olympic training squad.

"I have to keep thinking positive, then I will hit all my routines," she said, gently refusing to acknowledge how close the dream is.

Maybe that's because Dawes is occasionally haunted by bad daydreams -- images that flash in her head of her falling or stumbling. She drives them out with positive thoughts.

"I've had a lot of those negative images. And I was really nervous during warm-ups," she said, her words speeding out in a soft and squeaky voice.

What bothered her more than bad thoughts, perhaps, was the tendinitis in her right ankle. Like a thoroughbred running for the first time with mud cups, Dawes had to get used to wearing little rubber heel cups held in place with Ace bandages. They cushion the pounding her ankle must endure, and, though only her right ankle is irritated, she needed two for balance on the beam.

"It made her more nervous, but she didn't let it bother her," said her coach, Kelli Hill. "I'm thrilled with her grin-and-bear-it attitude."

Compulsories like those that weigh 60 percent of this competition are confining for an athlete such as Dawes. The skills are difficult, but worse, the judges require very precise body positions and body lines.

"She just doesn't have the body type they like," Hill said.

Dawes is very capable of blowing the doors off the Arena tomorrow with perfect scores in the beam and the floor exercises.

But for last night, she was just happy that her scores improved in three of the four disciplines over those she recorded when she finished fourth at the U.S. championships last month.

"I was really excited to be asked to a press conference," Dawes said from the podium, where she joined reigning world champion Kim Zmeskal and Shannon Miller, the girl who leads this competition.

Her determined focus has not allowed her to see the elite company she is keeping.

"And I was real surprised."

Dawes is icing the troublesome ankle, taking physical therapy twice a day, with ultrasound and muscle stimulation. And she wears a small air cast on her ankle when she is outside the gym.

Inside her head, she's thinking happy thoughts.

"It looks good," Hill said.

* The injury to Michelle Campi, who suffered a fracture dislocation of her elbow Tuesday night while practicing at the Arena, made a space at the trials for Tracy Sommer, coached by former Towson State gymnast Paula Fehr Gehman (1973-1976) in Chatham, N.J.

Sommer was in last place after last night's compulsories.

* Maryland will again be represented tonight when the men's competition begins.

Jair Lynch, a member of Stanford University's NCAA championship team, is a native of Washington and trained at Rick Tucker's Gymnastics Plus in Columbia.

His father, Acklyn is professor at the University of Maryland and his mother, Martha, is an economic consultant in Washington. His sister, Pilar, is a dance student at New York University and works with the Alvin Ailey Company.

Lynch, a civil engineering major at Stanford, moved onto the national scene in 1988 when he was third all-around and first in the vault at the Junior Olympic Nationals. He won the U.S. Junior National title in 1990 and won the all-around title and three individual titles at the 1991 Olympic Festival.

Lynch's family and friends will be at the Arena in force, he said -- no doubt delighted they don't have to take the red-eye to see him.

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