BOSTON -- Jair Lynch was in trouble yesterday at the FleetCenter. Not only did the 24-year-old gymnast fall from the high bar to land face-first on the mat, he got up and did it again. Penalized a half-point for each splat -- he received an 8.1 for the routine -- Lynch fell from fourth to seventh in the overall standings after two rotations of the men's optionals.
It looked as if Wily E. Coyote had come to the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials.
A 1992 Olympian who nearly won a medal on the parallel bars in Barcelona, Lynch was suddenly in danger of not making this year's team. And he was in danger of reliving the nightmare of Dan Hayden, who went from being the national champion in 1988 to not making the U.S. Olympic team going to Seoul, Korea. In his last rotation, Hayden fell twice in the same event, going from second place to see-you-later.
"As soon as I got up, I said to myself, 'You still have four events left,' " said Lynch, who attributed his falls to a large callous that began to bleed under his hand wraps during his first routine on the parallel bars. "I just looked at it as a new competition. It was important for me to get back up there for my pride's sake and not folding like a cheap chair."
He didn't. Lynch, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and has lived in Palo Alto, Calif., since attending and graduating from Stanford, would not take his place beside Hayden on that ignominious list of Olympic wannabes. He recovered nicely in his next two routines, the floor exercise and pommel horse, to move up to sixth with two rotations left and give himself a little bit of a comfort zone. And when he landed his vault with only a slight stutter-step on his final routine, his place on the team was secured.
"I didn't feel like I made it until I finished the vault," said Lynch, who finished sixth.
Lynch's falls typified the afternoon's competition. All 14 gymnasts, included top finisher John Roethlisberger, had at least a stumble. There were a total of 15 falls. The tone might have been set by Mihai Bagiu, who stepped off the floor exercise mat 10 seconds into the very first routine of the program. Bagiu later fell during the floor exercise, as well from the still rings, but managed to secure the final spot on the seven-man team when he executed a spectacular high bar routine on the next-to-last routine of the day.
Asked about the number of spills, U.S. Olympic coach Peter Kormann reflected on his own experience as an Olympian. "When I competed in the Olympic Trials, I competed horribly," said Kormann, who in 1976 became the first American gymnast to medal in 32 years of Olympic competition. "I was nervous. When I competed I hit all my sets. When we walk out in Atlanta we will walk out as a team. There's a lot of strength to that."
Certainly the rest of the team can draw strength from Bagiu. Married and the father of a 1-year-old daughter, Gabriela, Bagiu's xTC monthly stipend from USA Gymnastics runs out tomorrow along with the rest of the members of the U.S. National Team. His wife Kris has had to move out of their apartment in Albuquerque and back with relatives in Los Angeles. If Bagiu had missed his routine on the high bars, it would have likely meant the end of his gymnastics career.
"I felt like I was right on the bubble," said Bagiu, 25, who came into the final rotation holding a .134 of a point lead over Josh Stein. "I tried to stay relaxed and hit my routine like I do in a workout. There's a lot of stress on you going into the last routine."
If there was some high bar anxiety for Bagiu going into the routine, there was even more pressure on Stein after seeing Bagiu bring the crowd of 15,112 out of its seats. Stein had taken a couple of falls himself, and knew he needed a strong vault to make the team. He received only a 9.275 and missed the team by .584 of a point. Stein, who plans to enter medical school after taking a year off, would be haunted by his falls.
"In 17 years of gymnastics, I've had a lot of falls," said Stein, 23. "I've had a lot of falls in big competitions. You've just got to get back up."
Ask Jair Lynch. By doing just that yesterday, Lynch chased Dan Hayden's ghost right out of the FleetCenter and put himself on the Olympic team for the second time.
(Top seven make U.S. Olympic team)
1, John Roethlisberger, Minnesota, 228.873. 2, Blaine Wilson, Ohio State, 228.159. 3, John Macready, USOTC, 225.142. 4, Chainey Umphrey, UCLA, 223.058. 5, Kip Simons, Ohio State, 222.820. 6, Jair Lynch, Stanford, 222.598. 7, Mihai Bagiu, Gold Cup, 221.328. 8, Josh Stein, Stanford, 220.744. 9, Jay Thornton, Iowa, 220.200. 10, Chris Waller, UCLA, 219.570. 11, Scott Keswick, UCLA, 219.370. 12, Stephen McCain, UCLA, 219.140. 13, Mark Booth, Stanford, 218.990. 14, Gary Denk, USOTC 217.650.
Pub Date: 6/30/96