Strug's heroics vault wanna-bes into gym Olympic rings now those of gymnastic class phones


Jessica Sullivan and her two older sisters, Katie and Stephanie, did what many other Americans did when the U.S. women's gymnastics squad won a team gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta: They watched every flip, tumble and somersault with wide-eyed amazement.

"They were cool," said the 6-year-old from Glen Burnie. "I want to be like them."

So Jessica, her sisters and a handful of other children are trying to become the next Kerri Strug by signing up for gymnastics classes sponsored by the Chesapeake Dance Theatre.

For most of the summer, the Arnold-based organization has been holding sessions at Chesapeake Senior High School in Pasadena and MacArthur Middle School at Fort Meade, attracting about 20 children at each site, said Randy C. Brown, chief instructor.

But since the end of the Olympics about a week ago, 10 more youths have paid the $30 registration fee for the crash course, so to speak. And the dance theater has fielded more than 50 calls from parents -- a development that Brown credits to the Olympic coverage.

"I think there's been a lot of interest since then," he said, trying to suppress a grin.

Brown was particularly effusive about Strug, who overcame a severely sprained right ankle to ensure the team gold medal for the United States.

"When I saw that thing with Kerri Strug, I thought, 'Holy Moses, that's going to bring the roof down,' " he said. "Steven Spielberg couldn't have done anything better than that."

The media festival surrounding Strug and the individual medals won by Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes have helped elevate the appeal of the sport, said one mother.

"It brought a lot of visibility to it," said Carole Abel of Pasadena, whose daughter Ashley, 10, was taking her second class Friday. "Ashley and all of her girlfriends were talking about Kerri Strug and Dominique Dawes, and who was going to be in Sydney [Australia, the site of the 2000 Summer Games] and who wasn't."

Ashley even hyperextended her right knee Wednesday, just like the experts.

But Brown said most children and their parents are realistic about their chances of being on the next cereal box front.

"They realize that it's a great activity, but it's a very demanding sport," he said. "Then again, it certainly starts right here."

Brown's optimism has infected his young charges, including the Sullivan sisters.

"I thought it would be interesting," said Katie, 10. "I thought that I might want to work to be in the Olympics."

"I want to go to the Olympics," 8-year-old Stephanie said.

And does their mother think her daughters will bring home a gold medal? "You never know," Cathy Sullivan said with a smile.

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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