Hill joining Kupets on road to Athens

They've gotten to the brink of the Olympics as a team. Now gymnast Courtney Kupets and her coach, Kelli Hill, will go the rest of the way together.

For Kupets, the two-time national champion from Gaithersburg who also won the Olympic trials, last night's announcement of her place on the Athens-bound squad was a formality.


But team officials also selected Hill, Kupets' personal coach and the outspoken head coach of the 2000 team, to reprise that role next month.

Hill, 44, is the U.S. coach with the most international experience and is best known for training gold medallist Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring and 2000 Olympian Elise Ray of Columbia. She was USA Gymnastics Coach of the Year in 1991 and 1992 and was coach of the 2003 world championship team.


Last August, Hill was on the floor when Kupets tore her Achilles' tendon at the world championships and then worked with her through a rigorous rehabilitation schedule to prepare for the Summer Games.

As expected, the other half of "Courtney Squared," 16-year-old Courtney McCool of Lee's Summit, Mo., also was named to anchor the team. McCool finished second to Kupets at the trials.

The third sure bet to make the team - Carly Patterson - did just that. The 16-year-old from Baton Rouge, La., who shares with Kupets the national all-around title and won the silver medal for all-around performance at the 2003 world championships, is expected to perform in all events in Athens.

But after confirming the top half of the squad, the three-member selection committee mixed and matched, trying to come up with a roster that can dominate not only as a team, but also in individual events as well.

While U.S. gymnastics officials boast of having a national team so deep in talent that they could field two squads capable of winning medals, they also acknowledge that a new scoring system could trip them up on their weakest event - the vault.

Four years ago, five athletes competed in each event, with only the top four scores counting. The Athens scoring system allows just three athletes from each team to compete on each apparatus in the team final, with all three scores counting.

So 16 gymnasts arrived at the Karolyi ranch outside Houston to be graded by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, athlete representative Larissa Fontaine and international elite committee chairwoman Roe Kreutzer. On Friday and again yesterday, the gymnasts had to prove they are healthy, their routines are sufficiently difficult and that they left their nerves at home.

Then the committee deliberated for two hours while tense athletes and their coaches waited.


For their fourth pick, the committee chose Terin Humphrey, of Missouri, a member of the 2003 gold-medal world championship team. She is a strong performer on floor exercise and balance beam, and finished third in the all-around competition at the nationals.

"It was pretty hard and pretty stressful, but it's been worth it because the feeling is awesome," said Humphrey, who will celebrate her 18th birthday on the second day of the Olympics.

The selection committee then switched gears and picked the two oldest athletes, women who retired once from the sport and made comebacks. But both are strong in the vault.

Annia Hatch, 26, was the seven-time Cuban champion before moving here in 1997. She was the 2003 national vault champion, but tore her anterior cruciate ligament while competing in the world championships last year. She struggled at the nationals and finally withdrew when nagging knee pain kept her from going all out.

Declaring herself "a little bit on Cloud 9," Mohini Bhardwaj, 25, was thrilled when her name was announced. She proved herself a crowd-pleaser at the trials with her powerful vault and with her No. 1 fan and sponsor, actress Pamela Anderson, in the stands.

In Gaithersburg, Mark Kupets let out a sigh of relief when his daughter's name was announced.


"We're happy and relieved," Kupets said. "It was a stressful five days and she looked tired."

The team alternates are Chellsie Memmel, Tasha Schwikert and Allyse Ishino.