Gymnast Marie Robbins of Lorton had to sit out her first chance to qualify for the national team.

She injured her knee in practice June 5, the day before she was to compete in the McDonald's Championship in Jacksonville.

"My coach didn't see that it was possible to compete. It was upsetting because I had to just sit and watch. I missed out on making the national team that first meet and my goal was to make that team," said Robbins, 17.

But there is a second chance for Robbins. She returns to practice next month and will compete with 35 to 40 other girls in the senior division (15 years old and over) of the U.S. Classic Nationals, Aug. 22-24 in Atlanta.

If she finishes among the top 10 in the all-around competition she will be one of 20 qualifiers for the world championship team trials in Minneapolis, Sept. 26-28.

"I think I can get on the top five unless I fall apart. I think I can do it, but it's still early and I need to practice and build up my confidence," said Robbins.

Robbins became interested in gymnastics after watching Olga Korbut perform in the 1976 Olympics on television. Robbins was 8 then.

She has been competing as an elite gymnast since she was 14 after placing eighth on the vault in the Junior Olympic trials in Tulsa.

Now a junior at Hayfield High School in Alexandria, she maintains a 3.7 average while devoting 3 1/2 hours a day, six days a week, to practice under the guidance of her primary coach, Milan Stanovich.

"She's had to take her final exams early because of traveling to different meets," said Stanovich. "She's never missed a practice. The sport is teaching her discipline and how to budget her time."

"It's time consuming, but I've learned to make my time worthwhile and it's worth it to me," said Robbins. "If I wasn't in the gym I would probably be sitting around somewhere getting fat."

Since April 1984, Robbins has competed in seven national meets. In the second elite qualifying meet this past April in South Plainfield, N.J., she placed second in the vault (19.2), second on the balance beam (18.25) and fourth on the uneven bars (17.7), making her all-around champion with a total score of 73 for eight events (compulsory and optional rounds of vault, bars, beam and floor exercise).

"That was the first time I got all-around," she said. "I was psyched. It really got me going. It got me to qualify for the nationals. Vaulting was my best event."

After graduating from Hayfield in June 1986 she is hoping for a full scholarship to a college strong in gymnastics.

"The University of Florida, the University of Alabama, Arizona State, University of Georgia -- they haven't won the national championship in the past five years," said Robbins. "I'd like to go to one that hasn't been No. 1 to try to help it along, but I'd like to be in a Division I school that goes on to the nationals."

But first, she hopes to help her own career along by taking full advantage of that second chance at qualifying for the national team.