Jackie Cassello, a 13-year-old gymnast from Silver Spring, propelled herself into the 1980 Olympic picture late Saturday night in New Haven, Conn.
Competing among the 36 finest women performers in the United States, Cassello captured the allaround title of the National Elite gymnastics championships.
Cassello outdid even Marsha Fredericks, the only American to win a gold medal in international gymnastics competition (uneven bars, 1978 World Games, Strasbourg, France) by placing in the finals of all four events.
"Her skill level is fantastic, and it's even more impressive when you consider the fact that she's only 13 years old," said Margie Weiss, Cassello's coach.
Cassello moved to Silver Spring in December 1978, when she became disenchanted with her coaching at her New York City gymnastics school.
Cassello is living in the Weiss household until her family can relocate in the Washington area.
"The Olympics? Yes, we're hoping for the Olympics," Weiss said. "That's what we're grooming her for."
Saturday, Cassello won the allaround with a total of 73.6 points. She finished second in free exercise and vaulting (18.7 and 18.8 scores, respectively), third in uneven bars (18.47) and fifth on balance beam (17.9).
"All my events are strong, they're all about equal," said Cassello, who qualified for the National Elite championship by winning the Maryland state, Eastern States (eight states) and Eastern Zone titles on three successive weekends.
"I thought I had a chance to win the title going into the meet," Cassello said. "I knew I had to hit my routines, and I did."
Cassello said she wants to participate in the 1980 Olympics, But that is a year off. A hurdle that must be cleared first is the the U.S. championship early this summer; the World Games follow soon after.
In this pre-Olympic year, members of the team that qualify for the 1974 World Games have the inside track to make the Olympic squad.
Cassello believes she has a chance to make that squad despite her youth. "I think I only have to pick up a few more tricks, and just get a little more consistent," she said.