Borden wants Olympic spot, not sympathy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

BOSTON - Amanda Borden has had it with poignancy. She is put out with pity. She did not return to the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials to revive her role as The Heartbreak Kid.

You want to feel sorry for her? That's your problem.

Cincinnati's celebrated contortionist recognizes her position as delicate entering today's decisive optionals, but she refuses to see it as desperate. She did not seek to straddle the bubble at her second straight Olympic Trials, but neither does she shrink from it. She's a big girl now, size notwithstanding.

''I really don't have any thoughts of '92 in my mind,'' Borden said, referring to her previous Olympic disappointment. ''I don't have any worries about what happened then. There's really no more pressure on me than any other position. I'm doing the routines I'm trained to do.''

Borden's outlook positive

Amanda Borden has devoted most of her 19 years to putting herself in this predicament. Now, all she need do is perform. If she can merely maintain her standing through tonight's optionals competition, she will qualify for the Summer Games that she so narrowly missed four years ago. Either way, her life is expected to go on.

''She's not going to lay in bed tonight and say, 'I'm in seventh place. It could happen again,' '' said Mary Lee Tracy, who coaches Borden. ''She's going to be focused and maybe move up a spot.''

Tracy's training revolves around positive reinforcement, and Amanda Borden has bought it hook, line and parallel bars. Not that it took much selling. The sun never sets on Borden's disposition. She betrays all the bitterness of a hot fudge sundae.

This is one of the reasons so many gymnastics people are openly pulling for her this weekend. In a sport that has been under siege for its politics, its pressures and its persistent health problems, Borden is the personification of vitality and vivaciousness. Her smile is distilled sunshine, and her conversation unfailingly cheerful. You'd think her a goody two shoes, except she competes barefoot.

''She is just the sort of poster woman her sport is craving,'' Christopher Clarey wrote in Saturday's New York Times, ''to shake its image as a breeding ground for gifted adolescents with hollow cheeks and prematurely serious countenances.''

''To me, she is just the picture of wholesomeness and health mentally and physically,'' Tracy said. ''The world is going to open up to her because of the way she is.''

The Olympics is a different, dicier proposition. It is, in theory at least, a meritocracy, and Borden's bubbly personality can cover only so many slips. Tracy thought she had been harshly penalized for a wobble on the balance beam Friday night. Borden can ill afford any more mistakes this evening.

Including Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu, whose scores have carried over from Nationals because of injury waivers, Borden holds the seventh qualifying position on a seven-woman squad. She leads Mary Beth Arnold and Theresa Kulikowski by less than half a point entering tonight's optionals.

That's not much margin in a competition conducted in part on a four-inch-wide balance beam.

''That,'' said rival coach Bela Karolyi, ''is a reason to be nervous.''

Past wounds have healed

Borden's advantage is that she's been through this before. She finished seventh in the 1992 Trials, only to be nudged from the team by late injury petitions by Betty Okino and Michelle Campi. USA Gymnastics subsequently tightened its rules, but too late for Borden to compete in Barcelona.

''It was so discouraging and so hurtful, she needed some space,'' Tracy said. ''She needed to heal. It took a few months - I'd say three months - of 'Do I really want to do this?' ''

Eventually, Borden answered in the affirmative. She came to realize she loved her sport more than she lamented its shortcomings. Her eyes have been opened, but her rose-colored outlook remains.

Whatever occurs this evening, Amanda Borden should be envied, not pitied.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published June 30, 1996.