US Gymnasts Start Packing for Atlanta

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

If the United States was looking for an athletic event with plenty of American flavor heading into the Fourth of July, it had one this past week in Boston, where selection trials were used to identify members of the US Olympic gymnastics team. The three-part meet was not only decoratively swathed in red, white, and blue, it was a testament to the "American way" of institutional decisionmaking.

USA Gymnastics, the sport's national governing body, arrived in Boston prepared to select Olympians for men's, women's, and rhythmic competitions and braced to explain differing selection procedures. Officials, in fact, spent two pre-meet press conferences laying out the facts.

USA Gymnastics president Kathy Scanlan tactfully indicated that the men's and women's athletic communities were allowed to independently reach their own Olympic selection procedures.

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The men's camp came up with a no-exceptions policy, in which the seven gymnasts with the best combined score from the national championships and the trials earned the seven US team berths.

The women's camp focused on the trials, yet allowed its two top gymnasts to sit out the meet and still make the seven-member squad heading to Atlanta later this month.

Dominique Moceanu and Shannon Miller were injured and petitioned to have their scores from last month's national championships in Knoxville, Tenn., stand as their scores at the trials. The petition was granted, and they made the team without executing a single flip or vault."Our goal is to put the best possible Olympic team on the floor," Scanlan said. "Is [the procedure used] the most fair? I'm not sure that's answerable."

That Moceanu and Miller made the team comes as no surprise, given that they are the two biggest names in American gymnastics. Moceanu, whose parents immigrated from Romania, became the youngest US champion at 13 last year, when she earned the only individual medal at the 1995 world championships. Moceanu was third at last month's nationals, Miller first.

Miller, a veteran of 19, is the most decorated US gymnast ever, having won more Olympic and world medals than any other American. The men's chief US Olympic hope is Minnesotan John Roethlisberger.

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