Monday, August 21, 2000

Cincinnati's White makes Olympic team

Teammate Beckerman alternate

Staff and wire reports

        BOSTON — Cincinnati is sending two gymnasts to Sydney — one to compete, one as an alternate.

        Morgan White, who lives in Fairfield and trains at the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy, earned a spot on the six-member U.S. Olympic gymnastics squad on Sunday. Cincinnati teammate Alyssa Beckerman was named the alternate.

Cincinnati's Morgan White (left) and Alyssa Beckerman (right) are going to Sydney on the Olympic gymnastics team. Others are Elise Ray, Kristen Maloney, Dominique Dawes, Jamie Dantzscher and Amy Chow.
(AP photos)
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        White, 17, finished the Olympic trials in fourth place Sunday, and was a lock for the team as the selection committee, headed by Bela Karolyi, met for 13 minutes after the end of competition.

        “I don't think the whole thing has sunk in yet,” said White, nicknamed “The Creeper” for the slow, steady progress she has shown the last two years. “I don't know what to feel. I just can't wait to go see my parents.”

        Karolyi's committee also selected national champion Elise Ray (who finished first), Kristen Maloney (third), Jamie Dantzscher (fifth) and 1996 Olympians Amy Chow (second) and Dominique Dawes (seventh). They'll defend the 1996 American “Magnificent Seven” squad's gold medal at next month's Sydney Olympics.

        Beckerman, a 19-year-old living in Wyoming, finished eighth in the standings, but had performed well enough overall in the four-round qualification process that the selection committee chose her over the highly touted Vanessa Atler — who was expected to be the next American darling — and two-time Olympian Shannon Miller, who withdrew Sunday after jamming her knees on the first event.

Coach Mary Lee Tracy confers with White and Beckerman.
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        In a surprise, Cincinnati coach Mary Lee Tracy, who trains White and Beckerman at the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy, was passed over for head coach of the Olympic team. That position went to Kelli Hill, coach of Dawes and Ray. Tracy handled the decision with class and said she was happy to serve as an assistant coach, the same position she held in 1996 when two of her gymnasts, Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps, were on the team.

        Though designed to put the strongest team on the floor, the way the Olympic squad is chosen has caused quite a controversy. The weighted scores from trials (60 percent) and last month's national championships (40 percent) were combined to rank the women. The selection committee wasn't bound by the scores.

        “This was the most disputed, dramatic and beautiful trials we've ever had,” Karolyi said.

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        White, who had troubles on the vault at nationals but was solid Friday, showed the consistency during trials that Karolyi loves so much. She revved the crowd up with her final routine, tumbling and twirling across the floor to lively salsa music. She had a huge grin on her face as she finished, and she exchanged a triumphant high-five with Beckerman.

        Chow and Dawes, the first and the last of the Magnificent Seven to return to competition, are clearly the headliners of the team. Both took home individual medals in 1996 Chow won a silver on the uneven bars, and Dawes won a bronze on the floor exercise. Dawes also competed in 1992, when the Americans won a team bronze.

        “Definitely, the first time had to be the sweetest,” Dawes said. “In 1996, there was a lot of hype and expectations, so that added pressure. This time, I just want to do the best I can for the country.”

        Dawes showed glimpses of what she can offer at trials, where she looked like she'd been training for three straight years instead of just three short months.

        “I started back in May and that's not that bad,” she said. “All the experience really helps. The muscles have memory.”

White warms up with Beckerman in the background.
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        On her final event, the balance beam, Dawes did back flips and tumbled with ease. The fans were on their feet as she landed perfectly, and even though she waved to them when she finished, they stayed standing until she came back up for a curtain call.

        The routine even brought Karolyi to his feet for one of the rare times of the night. He rushed across the floor to hug Dawes and her coach, Hill.

        Karolyi's most gut-wrenching decision was to leave off Atler, even though she finished in sixth place, one spot ahead of Dawes.

        Atler has long been Karolyi's favorite, and seemed to draw the most attention from him when she performed both here and at nationals. But the bubbly California girl who seemed the best hope to bring glitz and glamour to the new generation didn't hit a routine all weekend.

        Karolyi knew it, and so did Atler.

        “I wasn't having fun,” she said. “When my name wasn't called, I almost had a sense of relief because deep down, I knew I shouldn't be going. I knew I wasn't ready. It's just not my day. Not my time.”

        Likewise, Miller's time has passed. The ending was unceremonious.

        It came on her first performance of the evening, a vault in which she landed awkwardly, jamming her legs into the mat and falling backwards, writhing on the ground in pain.

        Her coach, Steve Nunno, pulled her out of the competition, hoping Karolyi would grant the two-time Olympian another trip based on history.

        “I wish she had decided to start back earlier and pick up more physical fitness,” Karolyi said of Miller, who returned in January. “But considering her physical status, it's hard to consider her ready for the full speed and full pressure of the Olympics.”

        Ray had no such problems. She was the best gymnast in three of four meets over the qualifying process. Other than a fall off the beam Sunday night, she was the most consistent gymnast heading to Sydney.

        “I always imagined being on the team, but your imagination can only go so far,” Ray said. “Standing up on that floor with everyone is amazing. Being a part of it is 2,000 times better than imagining it.”


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