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It All Adds Up to the Right U.S. Gymnasts

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the end, the system worked, even if it meant running a few gymnasts, their coaches, their families and their friends through the wringer.

The complicated, computational qualification system for the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team--which involved the two top gymnasts in the land, Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu, attending the trials in Boston but not competing--did produce the best possible team. Three past or present U.S. champions--Miller, Moceanu and Dominique Dawes--made the team along with two other members of the bronze-medal team at the 1995 World Championships, Kerri Strug and Jaycie Phelps.

“The least we’ll do in Atlanta is a bronze medal,” predicts Steve Nunno, Miller’s coach.

The mood was not as ebullient in the Theresa Kulikowski camp. Among 14 gymnasts who actually competed last weekend in Boston, Kulikowski finished sixth. Ordinarily, that would have put her on the seven-woman Olympic squad.

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But because Miller and Moceanu were there with national- championship scores only, and because no gymnast in Boston was able to match those scores (78.38 for Miller, 78.22 for Moceanu), Miller and Moceanu bumped Kulikowski from sixth to eighth--one slot out of luck.

Kulikowski’s coach, Tom Forster, was asked if he agreed with the selection process.

“I did, until now,” he said, managing a thin smile. “I really don’t like it now.”

To her credit, Kulikowski did her best to see the big picture.

“I think it’s great for the team,” she said, “and it’s great to have [Miller and Moceanu] there.

“But the thing is: This is a high-pressure meet, and it tests an athlete. You never know what could have happened.”

Bela Karolyi, who coaches Moceanu and availed himself of the petition process to the great advantage of his gymnast, was less than thrilled with the system too. But, then, he doesn’t much care for the trials concept, either.

“In Romania, in ’76 and ’80, we picked the team this way--'You, you, you and you,’ ” he says. “Those were the good old days. And, still the best way.”

FACTOID

On the menu for 15,000 coaches and athletes at the Olympic Village, which opened Saturday, are 115,300 pounds of potatoes, 32,450 pounds of hamburger, 15,000 pounds of chicken, 199,000 sandwich buns, 274,500 cheese slices, 337,120 pickle slices, 7,000 pounds of lettuce, 262 gallons of catsup and 116 gallons of mustard.

NEWSMAKER

Not only is swimmer Jenny Thompson saying all the right things--bravely marching along despite enormous disappointment--she is doing all the right things in the pool.

Thompson, 23, turned in a virtuoso performance at the Santa Clara International Invitational last weekend, winning four individual events--the 50-meter freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. Her winning time at Santa Clara in the 100 free was 55.28 seconds, one-hundredth of a second off the first-place time at the Olympic trials in March.

At the trials, Thompson, winner of two gold medals in relays and a silver in the 100 freestyle four years ago in Barcelona, failed to qualify for this summer’s team in any individual events. But she will swim in the 400-meter freestyle relay.

“I’ve decided I’m going to take it as it is,” said Thompson, who graduated from Stanford and might go to medical school. ". . . One race [at the Olympics] will be enough. I’ll just give it my all and go out for my country. I’ve accepted it.”

Said U.S. women’s Coach Richard Quick, who also coached Thompson at Stanford: “Obviously, I’ve been proud of Jenny Thompson many, many times in her career. But I’ve never been more proud of her attitude in preparing for the Games. It’s nothing short of extraordinary. And I think it’s a tremendous testimony to her character.”

LAUREL WREATH

The Native American Sports Council has contributed $10,000 for living and training expenses to javelin thrower Todd Riech. The only Native American competing for the United States in the Olympics, he was raised on the Flathead and Kootenai Indian Reservation in Montana.

THORN WREATH

The International Olympic Committee will prohibit U.S. broadcasters other than rights-holder NBC from airing news conferences during the Games until 30 minutes after they end.

Olympic Scene Notes

Cosmas Ndeti, three-time Boston Marathon winner, was selected to run for Kenya in the Olympics but declined because of the heat and humidity. . . . Kenny Harrison, 1991 world champion in the triple jump, finished first at the U.S. trials but believed he lacked a qualifying mark for the Games. One was found, though, from an indoor meet in 1995.

The U.S. water polo team has moved to its new training headquarters at the U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Center in Los Alamitos. For a week before the July 20 Olympic opener against Italy, the team will undergo “isolation training” in Alabama. An unnamed staffer for U.S. Water Polo told USA Today that means the players “can take their backgammon boards, but no cell phones and no computers.” . . . The U.S. diving team is going to Lexington, Ky., for a training camp this week. Advising the divers on the pressures they will face in Atlanta is Greg Louganis.

The top two U.S. teams on the Miller Lite/AVP beach volleyball tour--Karch Kiraly-Kent Steffes and Mike Dodd-Mike Whitmarsh, were put in opposite brackets in the Olympic draw. It will be no surprise if they meet in the final. The other U.S. men’s team, Sinjin Smith and Carl Henkel, finished second in a recent FIVB tournament. It was their first placement higher than seventh this year. . . . The youngest shooter ever to earn a berth in the Games, 16-year-old Kim Rhode of El Monte, will appear at a clinic at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Pachmayr International Shooting Park in El Monte.

Coach Mary Lee Tracy on the moves that the family has made on behalf of Olympic gymnast Jaycie Phelps: “Yes, it’s a sacrifice, but it’s not been a sacrifice because it’s been fun. If they sacrificed one thing, it’s a house, and that’s a material thing. They can always get another house.”

Times staff writers Lisa Dillman and Randy Harvey contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

This Week

* TODAY-MONDAY: U.S. men’s basketball team vs. Brazil, Cleveland; U.S. baseball team vs. South Korea, Millington, Tenn.

* MONDAY: DN Galan track and field meet, Stockholm.

* TUESDAY: Lithuania vs. Brazil, men’s basketball, Loyola Marymount.

* WEDNESDAY: U.S. men’s basketball team vs. China, Phoenix.

* THURSDAY: U.S. men’s volleyball team vs. Bulgaria, San Diego; Nikaia track and field, Nice, France.

* FRIDAY: U.S. men’s basketball team vs. Australia, Salt Lake City; U.S. men’s volleyball team vs. Bulgaria, Tucson; KP Games track and field, London.

* FRIDAY-SATURDAY: U.S. baseball team vs. Japan, Millington, Tenn.

* SATURDAY: U.S. women’s basketball team vs. Italy, Indianapolis.

* SUNDAY: U.S. men’s basketball team vs. Greece, Indianapolis; U.S. baseball team vs. Italy, Millington, Tenn.


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