Politics on women's side throw gymnastics trials for ugly tumble

One competition produced a controversy, the other a team.

One ended with a parade as charade, the other finished with six men smiling and one man weeping, saying, "I just made my life today."


The 1992 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, which ended Saturday night at the Baltimore Arena, were the tumbling equivalent of the NHL's regular season.

Was this really necessary?


A world champion won on the floor yet lost on points.

A women's team was named. Sort of.

Adults shouted. Kids cried.

"You have to take the politics out of it," said Stanford men's coach Sadao Hamada. "That's the fairest way. The cleanest way."

4 Unfortunately, that's not the way of gymnastics.

Saturday should have been the sport's brightest time in America, a day-night doubleheader featuring ponytailed girls and clean-cut guys trying to flip their way to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Instead, the circus came to town.

There was this lovely battle of pixies, Kim Zmeskal against Shannon Miller, a 16-year-old world champion against a 15-year-old with skin like porcelain and a will like steel.


They circled the Baltimore Arena floor, putting on these exquisite performances in the optional finals and putting up these wondrous numbers on the scoreboard.

Zmeskal won the battle of Baltimore by 1/1000th of a point, but Miller won the overall trials through a scoring system so complicated, it took computers minutes to spew out the results.

The explanation: a loophole in the scoring system.

Zmeskal eventually was penalized for winning the U.S. championships (30 percent) and trials (70 percent), the two events that make up the Olympic selection. Miller, recuperating from an elbow injury, skipped half the U.S. championships, where the marks were lower, and received 100 percent of her score in Baltimore.

Don't be confused. It's just gymnastics.

So was the predictable outburst after the event.


Bela Karolyi, Zmeskal's coach, went ballistic. Called the results "monstrous." Un-patriotic, even.

Steve Nunno, Miller's coach, said Karolyi should have "raised a glass" to his gymnast.

The kids just watched.

"This didn't mean much," Miller said.

"I just wanted to get to Barcelona," Zmeskal said.

Not so fast.


This maze-like selection procedure isn't quite finished. The six women -- including Silver Spring's Dominique Dawes -- introduced as "Your Olympic team" Saturday must still endure a final training camp next month in Tampa, Fla., where they will be joined by injured performers Betty Okino and Michelle Campi.

Even after the trials, the U.S. women have neither a set roster nor a head coach.

Karolyi angrily said he wouldn't be the head coach. Mike Jacki, executive director of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, said that was strange, considering the job hasn't even been offered yet.

Saturday night, the men showed how terrific the sport can be, when it's nothing more than a pure competition between daredevils.

There were UCLA teammates Scott Keswick and Chris Waller battling for the lead and hugging at the end. And John Roethlisberger, laughing hysterically, saying, "I'm so scared that so scared." And Jair Lynch, a high flier raised in Wash

ington, only the second black man to reach the American Olympic gymnastics team, saying he was "honored" to be a role model to minority kids who dream of becoming stars in a sport where to soar is to win.


And finally, there was Lance Ringnald, celebrating a 22nd birthday Saturday night, a 1988 Olympian coming back from injury, weeping with joy because he was named the alternate.

The sport can be beautiful. The sport can be hideous.

8, The men are set. The women are in chaos.