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Kupets writes Athens ticket

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — ANAHEIM, Calif. - It wasn't medical science alone that allowed Courtney Kupets to regain her world-class gymnastic skills less than 10 months after she ruptured her left Achilles' tendon.

Surgical skill was part of it, certainly. But her remarkable recovery was also due in equal parts to hope, perseverance and a determination to remember why she pursued this often painful sport and endured tough months of rehabilitation.

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"You just go out there and have fun," the 17-year-old from Gaithersburg said. "If you don't have that, it gets harder."

Kupets made a potentially difficult road to Athens easier for herself yesterday by finishing with the highest combined score at the Olympic trials and clinching one of two as-certain-as-can-be spots on the U.S. team at the Athens Games.

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Although she wasn't as sharp in the finale at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim as in Friday's preliminaries, Kupets compiled 75.750 points, just ahead of Courtney McCool's 75.625. They both held off Carly Patterson of Allen, Texas, who fell off the balance beam for the second straight session but pulled up from fourth overall to third.

To lock up their spots, Kupets and McCool must simply maintain their fitness while 13 other gymnasts - 10 chosen yesterday and three petitioners - sweat and fret through a selection camp July 13-18 at the U.S. women's training center in New Waverly, Texas, and vie for the last four Olympic berths.

"I couldn't imagine coming here and placing first. It's so exciting," said Kupets, who suffered the injury last August here at the world championships. To be able to be in this position, it's awesome."

McCool was equally thrilled.

"I can actually say I'm here," said the ebullient 16-year-old from Lee's Summit, Mo. "I've climbed a huge step through this week."

Martha Karolyi, program coordinator for the U.S. women's team, said she would have named Patterson if she could have, but the prescribed procedures allowed only the top two to get even a modest guarantee. Patterson, who won a silver medal in the all-around competition at last year's world championships and tied Kupets for this year's U.S. all-around title, was subdued but not discouraged.

"I'm a little bit disappointed," she said. "Camp is just another chance to prove myself again."

The competition proved the U.S. team is deep in many areas and markedly weak in others. It's up to Karolyi and fellow committee members Roe Kreutzer and Larissa Fontaine to choose a roster with the breadth to thrive.

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The combined event standings produced four different winners: Annia Hatch on vault, Kupets on the uneven bars, McCool on the balance beam and Patterson on floor exercise.

The vault was troublesome for nearly everyone but Hatch, of West Haven, Conn., and UCLA alum Mohini Bhardwaj, who were among those invited to the selection camp.

Terin Humphrey of Blue Spring, Mo., fell from third after the preliminary round to seventh overall, but she was solid on balance beam both days. Tasha Schwikert of Las Vegas did best on the uneven bars and brings experience from the Sydney Olympics.

Carly Janiga of Paradise Valley, Ariz., is a powerful tumbler who could help the team on floor exercise, though she stepped out of bounds yesterday. Liz Tricase of Itasca, Ill., who was 10th, is another good vaulter with floor exercise potential. All were invited to the camp. So was Hollie Vise of Dallas, who tied for the uneven bars world title last year but was hobbled by a back injury.

That doesn't account for Chellsie Memmel, who won a team gold and uneven bars gold at last year's world championships and is a favorite of Karolyi's for her innovative skills. She broke her foot in April and petitioned to attend the selection camp, where she will get strong consideration.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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