Wednesday, July 23, 1997
One year later,
golden moment
seems remote


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Floor exercises have become a pain for Jaycie Phelps. So she has stopped doing them.

It's all those landings. All that pounding and pressure and strain on the knees. For close to a year, the Olympic gymnast has been postponing surgery to replace worn cartilage. She was able to tough it out in Atlanta, as her bones ground against each other, but she sees little value in making her exhibitions unnecessarily excruciating.

When Jaycie Phelps performs on tour these days, she sticks to the comparative comfort of the uneven bars and the balance beam; to ''Olympic routines a little watered down.''

In September, she will turn 18 years old, which is old and gray for an elite gymnast. In November, she is scheduled for surgery. She does not know whether she will be able to compete thereafter, but neither does she complain. She has been there and done that while the whole world watched.

''In Atlanta, I think we were so focused that I didn't really feel anything,'' Phelps said. ''I could pretend that I wasn't in pain. Now, I just look at what I've accomplished already, and I have to be thankful.''

Borden, Phelps still tumbling

Amanda Borden's anguish is mostly mental. The post-Olympic trauma of the hometown gymnast has been adjusting to life on the road. She paused between planes Monday night in Cincinnati, and started to tear up in a talk to the Lung Association.

Patty Borden says she turns down some requests for her daughter almost every day, but the demands on her time have not diminished.

''I miss my family a lot,'' she said Tuesday evening, from a hotel room in Manhattan. ''I flew in last night and now I'm away for two weeks. I saw my dad for about an hour. I saw my brother for about 30 minutes. I call home, but it's almost harder.''

She has agreed to the shampoo ads and the announcing gigs - to all the things that have made her a frequent flyer - because she knows they will be available only while her name is fresh in America's minds.

The shelf life of a world-class female gymnast is about as long as the mayfly's, and the opportunity to exploit success is brief.

Another group of athletes will soon replace the ''Magnificent Seven'' in the hearts and minds of Madison Avenue. Another group of tumblers will turn the heads of the television executives.

''I'm sure there will be a day,'' Jaycie Phelps said, ''when no one will know who I am.''

Despite her reservations about the road, Amanda Borden is not yet ready for that day. She remains as interested in the process that brought her to this point as the product of her labors.

At the advanced age of 20, she speaks of a comeback.

''For a long time, everybody said, 'You're too old,' and I believed them,'' she said. ''But I think if you want to do it, you should try. I'm going to start training again in August, and I'm not really sure where it's going. My limit may not be another Olympics. But I want to go back and compete because that's what my heart is telling me to do.''

Coach Tracy's gym benefits

One year ago today, Borden and Phelps scaled a medals stand in Atlanta and descended with gold medals around their necks. Then came the books and the posters and the cereal boxes and the exhibition tour and the personal appearances. Today, the U.S. women's gymnastics team observes the one-year anniversary of its Olympic triumph on the Today Show. Tomorrow, it's Regis and Kathie Lee. Where it goes from there is anyone's guess.

''You take it year by year and month by month,'' said Mary Lee Tracy, who trained the two local Olympians at Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy in Fairfield. ''There are thousands of kids doing gymnastics and only seven kids make it to the Olympics.''

While Borden and Phelps have been barnstorming the country, their teacher has become a magnet for aspiring gymnasts. Her new gym is operating close to capacity, and has drawn 14 ''elite'' gymnasts from around the country.

She is usually too busy to look back at Atlanta.

''That's the past,'' she said. ''If you stay in the past too long, you don't move forward. It seems forever ago that we were at the Olympics.''

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE