SECOND GERMAN TRIALS
With first trials winner Dmitri Nonin and runner-up Andreas Wecker (see July 22 "News Flash" for details) already confirmed for the Sydney squad the German men will take the floor again tomorrow in Saxonia-Anhalt, Germany for their second Olympic trials, which will determine the final four team members.
Favorites include Sven Kwiatkowski, third at the first trials, Valery Belenky, out this season after surgery, national champ Sergei Pfeifer, recovering from back problems, Oliver Walther, Rene Tschernitschek and Marius Toba.
HOWARD TAKES RHYTHMIC TITLE
It was bittersweet for Jessica Howard to repeat as the US rhythmic national champ. Though she obviously had the most difficult sets of the competition (39.125 all-around total), Howard won't be able to show them off on the world stage, as the US remains the Olympic alternates with little hope, at this point, of moving into competition position. (Though, if they do, Howard is now guaranteed that position as the national champ.)
Head and shoulders above her US competition Howard easily walked away with the senior all-around title yesterday afternoon over '98 champ Natalia Lacuesta (38.013), back this season after a year-plus hiatus, and Mila Marinova (38.001), the Bulgarian expatriate who became a US citizen in April after living in the states since 1992.
Marinova, ranked third in the world for Bulgaria in 1991, has a son, Jordan, who is almost three. She began training again in 1998 but couldn't represent the US at last year's worlds since she was six months shy of citizenship. (Marinova's presence might have made enough difference in the US team's rank to earn a Sydney spot.)
Marinova showed some of the most expressive routines of the competitions, with creative elements -- such as an elbow spin of her hoop -- lending character to her performances.
'99 junior champ Lindsay Powell lost her chances at a top three place, finishing fourth (37.976), after a drop with rope (Powell had perhaps the best pirouettes of the competition), as did fellow junior medalist Erin Jeffress (12th with 36.713, totally lost control of her hoop), but big sister Kate fared far better (tie for fourth, 37.976).
Also impressive were tenth place (36.913) Masha Krakovskaya (double illusion toss with rope) and 13th (36.7) Darina Brezhnev (two somis under rope toss).
In the junior competition, Brenann Stacker (35.813) topped Taryn Look (35.489) and Jacquelyn Jampolsky (35.463).
ROBERTSON INJURED, BOON ON STANDBY
New Zealand's Olympic wild card Laura Robertson injured her knee while training for the British Championships, where she was scheduled to compete as a guest, earlier this month. As of yesterday, Robertson was still doubtful for Sydney competition, prompting the New Zealand Olympic committee to alert alternate Alethea Boon to be ready to compete. Boon, who took part in the Australian Olympic trials, topping several Oz stars.
Robertson is still hopeful she'll be ready -- an MRI showed no serious damage -- but a final decision on which Kiwi competes won't be made until after NZ's national champs in early September.
Male entrant David Phillips is also competing with injury (stress fractures in his back, see July 4 "News Flash" for details), but says nothing will stop him from going to Sydney.
SMITH STILL FIGHTING FOR SPOT
After missing the Olympic training camp cut at Australia's first Olympic trials earlier this week (see July 25 "News Flash" for details), Jenny Smith hopes to petition her way into contention. Sixth after day one of competition, Smith hyper-extended her leg on vault, her second to last event at trials, and was unable to compete on bars. (The top ten girls made the training team.)
National coach Peggy Liddick supports Smith's petition. "She was a very valuable part of our '99 worlds [team]," Liddick told the Australian Associated Press (AAP), " and a very valuable part of our even being able to qualify a team [to the Games]."
If Smith petitions to the training team she will join the eight athletes not already guaranteed Games spots (everyone except Lisa Skinner and Allana Slater) at a second, semiprivate trials August 12-13 at the Australian Institute of Sport, where the final squad of seven will be selected. (The competing team of six won't be determined until the eve of the Games.)
The ten athletes already on the preliminary team are expected in Canberra to begin training next Monday. The team will then train together, under Liddick's guidance, through the Games in Sydney.
GREAT BRITAIN TOPS BELARUS
In their final test before Sydney, the British women's squad -- Rochelle Douglas, Kelly Hackman, Holly Murdock, Sharna Murray, Annika Reeder and Emma Williams -- topped Belarus (sans top star Alyona Polozkova) by nearly ten points, 148.25 to 138.375, last weekend.
Williams, the new British champ (see July 10 "News Flash" for details), also topped the all-around standings (37.787), followed by teammates Reeder, Hackman, Murray and Murdock.
Marina Zarzitskaya was Belarus' top competition, finishing sixth overall (35.5).
AUSTRALIAN OLYMPIC TRIALS
The Australian men and women tested the Sydney SuperDome, site of the upcoming Games gymnastics competition, this week with their Olympic Trials.
For the women, national champ Allana Slater came out on top (76.697), guaranteeing her Olympic position. Also going to the Games, again, is 19-year-old Lisa Skinner, who led after the first day of competition, but slipped behind Slater in today's event (76.182). Both Slater, Australia's top all-around at worlds, and Skinner turned in impressive all-around performances, with Slater topping the 38.0 mark on both days of competition, while Skinner earned the meet's highest score, 9.85, with her day two floor performance.
"I am really happy about that," national coach Peggy Liddick said of her team's high-scoring performances. "If we put this team score together, that's going to do a job for us in Sydney. We are getting close [to a medal]."
With Slater and Skinner already on the Games team, the next eight girls -- Trudy McIntosh, Brooke Walker, Katarina Frketic, Alexandra Croak, Zeena McLaughlin, Elizabeth Wong, Jacqui Dunn and Tam Le -- will take part in a second trials August 12-13, to be held at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), which will the narrow the squad to seven. As at worlds, the final competing group of six won't be announced until 24 hours before the Games begin.
'99 national champ McIntosh was expected to join Slater in the secured spots but Skinner, who briefly retired after her '96 Games appearance but was lured back by Liddick, has been on fire at recent events. McIntosh, who scored in the 37-range both days (74.849 total), finished third overall, debuting a full-twisting double layout mount on floor (9.767 floor day one, 9.75 day two).
McLaughlin, who sat in tenth place after day one competition, where she had disastrous bar (8.4) and floor (8.734) sets, worked her way to seventh with a solid second day (though bars still gave her some trouble, 8.933).
Jenny Smith (sixth after day one), Brooke O'Brien, Anne Marie Williamson, Melinda Cleland and Michelle Hayward failed to make the training team cut.
Top Oz male gymnast Andrei Kravtsov went under the knife today to repair his second Achilles career (most likely a career-ending injury for the 27-year-old, see July 20 "News Flash" for details), leaving the men's trials wide open.
In Kravtsov's absence, teenagers Philippe Rizzo, 19, and Damian Istria, 17 (53.950 and 53.600, respectively), topped the standings.
Rizzo, whose father, Andre, a former gymnast, represented France at the Games, feels his youth is an asset to the otherwise aging Australian squad. (Brennon Dowrick and Kravtsov, for example, are both in their late twenties.) "The new generation is coming up, hard and strong," Rizzo told the Australian Associated Press (AAP). "Their [older] bodies can't allow them to train as hard as I can. That's the way it is."
"I remember when I was 12 watching [Kravtsov] compete and thinking, 'Oh my God, I want to be like him'," Istria added. "... Anything can happen."
With only two berths available for the Australian men, Rizzo and Istria's spots are likely, but not guaranteed. An AIS training camp, which also includes Pavel Mamin, Dowrick, Ben Sutherland and Adrian Looney (sixth place competitor Mark Reed was omitted), will be held to determine if an event specialist should be sent in place of one of the all-arounders. Head coach Warwick Forbes will make his choice based on the ability of an event specialist to qualify to the Games finals. (Like the women, the men will have a second, semiprivate trials to determine their final team.)
"It's as simple as this," Forbes told the AAP, "if there's no gymnast that appears to have the potential to win a medal, then we take the top two all-arounders.
"It was interesting to see that the younger gymnasts are becoming more consistent and I think that's the difference between other competitions and this one."
The trials also served as a selection for the junior Commonwealth squad. Danielle Kelly and Jessica White secured the women's spots. Men's (Trent Thompson and Gerard Donnely) and rhythmic (Elise Gower and Bree Robertson) berths had already been determined.
YOUNG OUT OF CHAMPS
'99 world team member Chris Young has withdrawn from the US Championships, which kick off tomorrow. Young, who competed at the qualifier earlier this month, his first meet since tearing his Achilles tendon early this year, is expected to petition to trials, though no official announcement has yet been made.
Also out for the men, Michigan's Daniel Diaz-Luong, who withdrew due to injury.
IG Online will bring you complete coverage of the championships, starting tomorrow. Until then, check out our detailed preview.
PHILLIPS, BEAM IN
Following yesterday's US petition testing, Angela Beam, who was petitioned onto the '99 national team, and '87 national champ Kristie Phillips, will compete at US Championships. The other two testers, Brittany Smith and Michelle Emmons, didn't make the initial cut, but will be added as championships alternates. (Original alternates Alecia Ingram and Larisa Stewart have already been upgraded to full competitor status.)
Expected test camp attendees Kristy Powell and Chari Knight-Hunter were not in attendance.
RUSSIA ANNOUNCES OLYMPIC TRAINING SQUAD
Following the final days of artistic competition at the Russian Cup (details below), head coach Leonid Arkayev announced the eight men and eight women who would vie for Olympic berths.
The training teams are, in order ...
Women: 1. Svetlana Khorkina, 2. Yelena Produnova, 3. Yelena Zamolodchikova, 4. Yekaterina Lobaznyuk, 5. Yelena Dolgopolova, 6. Anna Kovalyova, 7. Anastasia Kolesnikova 8. Yevgenia Kuznetsova
In the post-meet press conference, Arkayev told reporters that each of these 16 gymnasts has an equal chance to make the final team of 12. "All will depend on what they show for these next two months," he said.
As for Olympic predictions, Arkayev declared that: "without at least 3 gold medals we will be coming back from Sydney in shame."
In Cup event final results ...
On vault, Lobaznyuk came out as the surprise winner, with two superb vaults (double-twisting Tsukahara and double-twisting Yurchenko). Produnova, a substitute for Kuznetsova, wound up with the silver over Zamolodchikova, who performed a Yurchenko 2-1/2 to her seat. Dolgopolova (layout Podkopayeva, layout barani) missed out on the bronze due to a deduction for flashing the wrong vault. Khorkina again landed her 10.0 Start Value vault well (9.6), but could only show a piked Cuervo for her second vault (9.05).
Not surprisingly, Khorkina took the bars title (9.75). Produnova aced beam (9.65), followed by Kovalyova.
Lobaznyuk took her second unexpected gold on floor, with a stuck routine over Zamolodchikova, who outdid Lobaznyuk's tumbling but is still a bit sloppy on her leaps. Khorkina landed all her tumbling well but a judges conference after her routine left her start value as only 9.8. Though she has struggled with endurance in the past, Khorkina completed 16 for 16 routines here in Moscow without a single major error.
Complete women's event results ...
VAULT: 1. Lobaznyuk , 9.612; 2. Produnova, 9.562; 3. Zamolodchikova , 9.462; 4. Kovalyova, 9.337; 5. Khorkina, 9.325; 6. Dolgopolova , 9.3; 7. 7. Yekaterina Privalova, 9.1; 8. Kolesnikova, 8.862
BARS: 1. Khorkina , 9.75; 2. Produnova, 9.625; 3. Kolesnikova, 9.55; 4. Dolgopolova, 9.5; 5. Zamolodchikova, 9.35; 6. Lyudmila Yezhova , 9.35; 7. Lobaznyuk, 9.3; 8. Kuznetsova, 9.275
BEAM: 1. Produnova, 9.65; 2. Kovalyova, 9.6; 3. Kolesnikova, 9.525; 4. Khorkina, 9.5; 5. 7. Privalova, 9.45; 6. Zamolodchikova - 9.425; 7. Yezhova, 9.1; 8. Elvira Almiyeva, 7.775
FLOOR: 1. Lobaznyuk, 9.775; 2. Zamolodchikova, 9.675; 3. Dolgopolova, 9.675; 4. Khorkina, 9.65; 5. Kuznetsova, 9.625; 6. Privalova, 9.3; 7. Ksenia Kekkonen , 9.275; 8. Anna Chepeleva, 8.575
For the men, Bondarenko won floor with a clean set (tucked double-double mount, double pike finish), while Nemov again landed out of bounds after his second tumbling pass. Tikhonovsky (full-twisting double layout mount, layout-front, front-full, rudi second pass) originally placed second with a 9.55 until grand master Arkayev insisted his Start Value be lowered to a 9.9. Vasilenko was in the hunt for a medal until he crashed his full-in last pass.
Nemov bounced back from his floor error to take the title on pommel horse. (Currently, Nemov is the world champ on both floor and horse.)
Strongman Rashid Kasumov said that he was not hoping for the gold on rings, his best event, "I was expecting it!" Though Arkayev conceded in the post-meet press conference that rings could be the Russian men's weakness at the Games, Kasumov didn't make the Olympic consideration cut.
On vault, the risky double front vault again claimed many victims, with Vasilenko the only gymnast to land one and Nemov the only gymnast not to attempt one. Bondarenko missed his (9.3), but came back strong with a Tsuk-double back (9.7). Nemov showed the Yurchenko-half on layout barani off (9.4) and the same vault with a full twist (9.6). Vasilenko's double front merited a 9.7 but he could only show a layout Yurchenko as a second vault, though with all the falls he still managed to claim bronze. Podgorny landed his double front on his back and scratched from the rest of the meet.
Top all-arounders Bondarenko and Nemov split the final two titles, with Bondarenko claiming in p-bars (9.55) and Nemov tops on pipe, earning a 9.7, almost six tenths ahead of his nearest high bar rival! (The event was a flashback to the Russian disastrous opening performance at last year's worlds.)
After the finals, Kryukov told IG that he still held out hope of competing on all six events at the Games, but admitted that a team of about ten doctors (both Russian and French), who have advised him on his Achilles injury, have told him he needs, at minimum, 4-1/2 months of further rehabilitation.
But Kryukov remains obstinate, noting that the Olympics only come around once every four years. "I am going to try to do six," he told IG. "I still have time."
Complete men's event results ...
FLOOR: 1. Bondarenko, 9.6; 2. Nemov, 9.525; 3. Podgorny, 9.5; 4. Tikhonovsky, 9.45; 5. Yevgeny Krylov, 9.25; 6. Alyoshin, 9.2; 7. Vasilenko, 9.0; 8. Alexander Pogoreltsev, 8.8
POMMELS: 1. Nemov, 9.75; 2. Kryukov, 9.6; 3. Alyoshin, 9.4; 4. Podgorny, 9.35; 5. Vasilenko, 8.95; 6. Kasumov, 8.85; 7. Bondarenko, 8.8; 8. Drevin, 8.35
RINGS: 1. Kasumov, 9.6; 2. Bondarenko, 9.55; 3. Drevin, 9.5; 4. Murtazov, 9.5; 5. Nemov, 9.5; 6. Vasilenko, 9.4; 7. Podgorny, 8.8; 8. Alyoshin, 8.5
VAULT: 1. Bondarenko, 9.5; 2. Nemov, 9.5; 3. Vasilenko, 9.1; 4. Alyoshin, 9.1; 5. Krylov, 9.05; 6. Renat Murtazov, 8.9; 7. Georgy Grebenkov, 8.8; 8. Podgorny, 4.2
P-BARS: 1. Bondarenko, 9.55l 2. Grebenkov - 9.5; 3. Alexei Kochachov, 9.4; 4. Drevin, 9.375; 5. Tikhonovsky, 9.35; 6. Alyoshin, 9.2; 7. Kryukov, 9.0.
HIGH BAR: 1. Nemov, 9.7; 2. Pogoreltsev, 9.15; 3. Alyoshin, 9.05; 4. Bondarenko, 8.95; 5. Ilya Baranov, 8.95; 6. Drevin, 8.8; 7. Tikhonovsky, 8.45; 8. Dmitri Matveyv, 8.3
IG Online thanks Amanda Turner, who is reporting for us from Moscow.
KABAYEVA CONQUERS RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX
In Russia, the popularity of rhythmic gymnastics far exceeds that of artistic and the Rhythmic Grand Prix event, held in conjunction with the Russian Cup in Moscow, drew double the crowd as earlier artistic competitions.
World and European champ Alina Kabayeva (Russia) scored 9.95 in every event in the all-around, "Gazprom" competition, and in the Grand Prix events she erred only on the ribbon, when a near miss forced her to stop her routine and straighten it out. Widely covered by the Russian press, Kabayeva is considered a national heroine in Russia.
Former world champ Yelena Vitrichenko (Ukraine), whose European ranking caused controversy (see June 2 "News Flash" for details), had a mistake with rope but, as at Europeans, her scores were generally low and she surprisingly made no event finals. Leading sports newspaper Sovietskii Sport featured a cover story on the rhythmic competition in Sunday's edition declaring Vitrichenko's 12th place a tabloid-style "Scandal!"
The Russian championships were also contested, though top all-arounders, like Kabayeva, Yulia Barsukova and Irina Chaschina, took part only in finals competition.
Gazprom International (top 15): 1. Kabayeva (RUS) 39.8; 2. Yulia Raskina (BLR) 39.712; 3. Barsukova (RUS) 39.7; 4. Chaschina (RUS) 39.6; 5. Tamara Yerofeeva (UKR) 39.574; 6. Anna Bessonova (RUS) 39.524; 7. Agnieska Brandeburda (POL) 39.512; 8. Valeria Vatkina (BLR) 39.337; 9. Svyeta Tokayev (ISR) 39.229; 10. Olga Belova (RUS) 39.249; 11. Vitrichenko (UKR) 39.212; 12. Edita Shaufler (GER) 39.249; 13. Lena Asmus (GER) 38.975; 14. Viktoria Frater (HUN) 38.837; 15. Suzanna Marchesi (ITA) 38.825
Grand Prix Finals (top 3) ...
Rope: 1. Kabayeva , 9.95; 2. Barsukova, 9.95; 3. Raskina, 9.925
Hoop: 1. Kabayeva, 9.95; 2. Raskina, 9.95; 3. Yerofeeva, 9.912
Ball: 1. Kabayeva, 9.95; 2. Barsukova, 9.95; 3. Raskina, 9.925
Ribbon: 1. Barsukova, 9.95; 2. Kabayeva, 9.925; 3. Raskina, 9.925
Russian Championships All-Around (top 4): 1. Yelena Sudukova 78.582; 2. Lyalsan Utasheva 78.266; 3. Olessia Manulova 78.200; 4. Yelena Murzina 77.631
IG Online thanks Amanda Turner, who is reporting for us from Moscow.
The past year has been hard on Vanessa Atler, struggling with injuries (she's had two ankle surgeries since November) and an imperfect coaching situation (she left longtime club Charter Oak shortly before the '99 worlds), she admitted recently that she sometimes wondered if it was worth it.
But her recent win at the US Classic revealed a rejuvenated Atler, ready for the Games.
"It feels great," Atler told IG of her win. "I just did way better than I expected, especially on floor, when [the crowd] started clapping to my music. That's a new floor routine for me and that was such a good feeling because I haven't heard the crowd like that in a while.
"I'm loving gymnastics a whole lot more now. I just think I started to wonder why I was in it but then after my injury I missed it a lot. I missed the crowd and everything. [In Tulsa], especially with Classic so big and everyone there, [with] such a big crowd, it made me feel back to normal again."
A big part of Atler's turnaround was new coach Valery Liukin. But to work with Liukin, whose WOGA gym is located in Plano, Texas, near Dallas, Atler had to leave home for the first time.
While she and her mom packed up and moved to Texas, Atler's father and brother, Teddy, with whom she's very close, stayed behind in Southern California. Teddy, has joined the Atler's for the summer, and she's hoping her father will come to Texas after the Games.
"[Moving] has been a little bit hard," she explained, "because I'm such a family person. I've been away from my Dad mostly, because I live with my Mom and my brother moved to Texas for the Summer. That was the really hard thing for me -- being away from him -- because I'm so close to my brother. My Dad's going to come in for championships, so it's not too bad."
Atler's renewed spirit for the sport also made it possible for her to once again feel comfortable reaching out to her fans via her online diary (www.atler.com), a practice she'd abstained from during her darker moments.
"There's a lot of stuff on my mind," she explained of her web silence. " I didn't want to say something. I was also really busy and stressed out . I love [the webpage] because I get so many letters from people that help me so much. I get some amazing ones from people that have so much worse problems than I do and they tell me, Keep on fighting. You can do it. Everybody feels like they know me [because of the diary]. I feel better when they're cheering for me, because I feel like they know what's really going on. I don't regret anything I've said. Maybe sometimes I've slipped a little (laughs) but it all works out -- as long as I don't hurt any feelings."
For more on Atler see our Team USA preview in the "Weekly Feature" section.
NONIN LEADS GERMAN OLYMPIC RACE
Dmitri Nonin won the first men's Olympic trials today in Waiblingen, Germany, topping 1996 Olympic champ Andreas Wecker, who has been out of competition this season due to hand injury. A dismal rings score, 8.3, cost Wecker the win.
Nonin and Wecker, who train together at SC Berlin, scored 56.050 and 55.800, respectively. Sven Kwiatkowski was third (54.925).
The German men's team has been struggling of late. Two time Olympic gold medalist Sergei Kharkov tore his Achilles earlier this year and is out of the Games. Valery Belenky, Marius Toba and national champ Sergei Pfeifer have also been beset by injuries and illness.
Pfeifer, who has had back problems, competed on all but floor and p-bars, while Belenky managed only two events, scoring a 7.95 on floor and 9.1 on rings. Toba, recovering from chicken pox, performed the all-around and finished eighth with a pair of 8.2s on floor and pommels.
Oliver Walther, Rene Tschernitschek, Daniel Fargo and Stefan Zapf rounded out the German top six. (Fargo and Zapf tied for sixth with a 54.1.)
CONWAY, TOUSEK PLAY BALL
2000 Canadian Olympians Michelle Conway and Yvonne Tousek, along with Canadian star of the past Curtis Hibbert, took part in a special "Olympic Night" at the Toronto Bluejays baseball game vs Baltimore, last night at the Skydome in Toronto.
The event, a Canadian Olympic Association fundraising effort, featured Olympic autograph sessions and special Olympic exhibitions along with video highlights during the game.