Women's gymnasts on the mend for U.S.

If the U.S. women's gymnastics team is looking for a mascot, they might consider the Six Million Dollar Man.

Two key athletes were lost to injury and another was left hurting during the World Championships in Anaheim, Calif., last August. A makeshift squad won the team gold medal - a first - but the victory was shadowed by concerns that there might not be enough healing time before the Summer Games.

However, it appears the athletes, doctors and trainers have borrowed the motto of the TV show from the 1970s: "We have the technology."

After the first training camp of the Olympic year, team officials say they are pleased with the progress of Courtney Kupets, the 2003 U.S. national champion and a student at Magruder High School in Montgomery County, and Annia Hatch, the 2003 U.S. vault champion.

"Their recovery is very much ahead of schedule and gave every indication that they will be able to recover in sufficient time to be a contender for the Olympic team," said Martha Karolyi, national team coordinator, during a teleconference.

Members of the national team worked out at "Camp Bela," the nickname for the USA Gymnastics Women's National Team Training Center, which is on the Texas ranch of former U.S. team coordinator Bela Karolyi, husband of Martha.

Kupets, 17, tore her left Achilles' tendon during warm-ups for the floor exercise and had surgery just days later. Team officials had expected her recovery to take eight months.

"She is in great physical condition. Her progress is really encouraging," said Martha Karolyi. "She is already able to perform on the balance beam, except her dismount, and able to do all of her skills on uneven bars."

Kupets, the 2002 world champion in the bars, said the hardest part of rehabilitation was exercising patience.

"I was antsy at first," she acknowledged. "I wanted to start right away after the surgery."

Hatch, 25, injured her knee at the World Championships and had not practiced at the training center.

"She can perform all her skills on uneven bars, and her dance on beam and a back handspring on beam. She needs one more month to be able to complete more difficult skills," said Karolyi.

Even Carly Patterson, who suffered an elbow stress fracture before the Worlds but still won the silver medal for all-around performance, is back working on her vaults.

The next training camp is scheduled for Feb. 20-24 as the lead-up to the Visa American Cup on Feb. 28 at Madison Square Garden.

"The training camp is the greatest opportunity for the girls and coaches to be able to come together as a team," said Karolyi. "The atmosphere is better. The team spirit is built up."

Male gymnasts gearing up

Men gymnasts, who won the team silver medal at the Worlds last August, also are getting ready for international competition leading up to the Olympics.

Six slots on the men's team will be filled on Feb. 6 and 7 at the Winter Cup Challenge. The Las Vegas event is considered the first step toward selection of the Olympics team in June.

Four of the athletes - 2003 World Championship gold medalist Paul Hamm, Jason Gatson, Morgan Hamm and Blaine Wilson - will be using the Winter Cup to prepare for the Visa Cup.

M. Jones set to return

She's been on the mommy track since giving birth to a son last June. Now five-time Olympic medalist Marion Jones is ready to return to track competition at the 97th Verizon Millrose Games on Feb. 6 at Madison Square Garden.

Jones, who has never participated in the Millrose Games, will compete in the women's 60 meters for a first-place check of $10,000.

The Millrose Games, the oldest invitational meet in the country, will be televised on NBC from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., on Feb. 7.

3 track stars honored

They were inducted in December, but the public had to wait until yesterday to see the names of distance runner Mary Decker Slaney, sprinter John Carlos and quarter-milers Larry James and Mike Larrabee engraved in glass at the new $8 million National Track and Field Hall of Fame in New York.

The three-story museum and archive is in the historic Armory Track & Field Center in the city's Washington Heights neighborhood.

Decker Slaney is a four-time Olympian who never won a medal, making her unique to this class of inductees. In the 1984 games, she fell in the 3,000-meter final after becoming entangled with another runner. She held every U.S. record from 800 to 10,000 meters at the same time and is a six-time Millrose winner.

Carlos, the bronze medalist in the 200 meters in Mexico City in 1968, is perhaps best known for being one-half of the black-gloved protest team on the podium with gold medalist Tommie Smith.

James won a gold medal as a member of the 400-meter relay team and silver medal in the 400-meter run in 1968.

Larrabee, who died last year, won two golds at the 1964 games in Tokyo in the 400 meters and the 400-meter relay.

Sailing selections

Seven competitors have been chosen so far for the U.S. sailing team, and three are Olympic veterans.

Lanee Butler Beashel (women's Mistral) has been selected for the fourth time, as has Paul Foerster, who will team with three-time Olympian Kevin Burnham in the men's 470.

The newcomers are Mark Mendelblatt (Laser), Peter Wells (men's Mistral), and Katie McDowell/Isabelle Kinsolving (women's 470).

Trials will continue next month in Florida for the Europe, Finn, 49er, Yngling and Tornado classes. The Star class will be decided in March.