Dianne Durham could not bear to look up. She sat alone, with a bag of ice on her left ankle, trying not to think of what might have been.
The eight members of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team marched by in their brand new USA team sweatsuits, waving and giggling as the Olympic fanfare sounded. Durham buried her head in her hands and cried.
A year ago, when she was 14, she was the U.S. national all-around champion. Tonight, she lost her chance to make the Olympic team when her left ankle collapsed beneath her as she landed in her first attempt at a lay-out full Tsukahara vault. "When I landed it wouldn't move," she said.
She tried to walk and couldn't. She withdrew from the competition, hoping that her seventh-place scores from the national championships three weeks ago would be good enough to place her in the top eight.
She finished ninth by .24 points.
"I'll live," she said, trying to smile. "I'll survive."
Her sadness was Kathy Johnson's joy. Johnson, 24, who faltered so badly during the compulsory competition, was eighth. A miracle? she was asked. "At the very least," she said.
Mary Lou Retton, the 1984 U.S. all-around champion, who trained with Durham at Bela Karolyi's gym in Houston, finished first with 77.164 points. As she left the gym, she stopped and whispered something to Durham. "She called me over and congratulated me," said Retton, who finished first in the vault and second to Johnson in the floor exercise. "I tried to make her feel better."
Julianne McNamara, the only member of the 1980 Olympic team who will definitely be a starter in Los Angeles, finished second. She was followed by Michelle Dusserre, 15, Pam Bileck, 15, and Lucy Wener, 17, who train with Don Peters, the U.S. Olympic coach. Tracee Talavera, who won the 1980 Olympic Trials competition and fell to 14th place in the 1983 nationals, was sixth. Marie Roethlisberger, who is deaf in one ear and hearing-impaired in the other, was seventh. Lisa McVay of Waldorf, Md., finished 21st.
The top four finishers are guaranteed starting spots on the Olympic team. The other four will compete for the two remaining spots at a Canada-U.S. meet July 14-15.
The scores from tonight's optional competition counted for 60 percent of the final score. The judging was tough. Not one 9.9 was awarded. Karolyi protested that his gymnasts were underscored and suggested that there were political reasons for it.
Karolyi, who made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the selection process, said, "It is all set up for Kathy Johnson, who is considered to be beautiful in the compulsories. It is set up for favortizing (sic) some gymnasts against these ones, the tumblers."
Jack Rockwell, the trainer for the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, said Durham had a severe sprain with possible ligament damage. He said she would not be able to resume training for four to six weeks.
It has been a troubled year for her. She quit Karolyi's gym in January because, Karoyli said, she felt she wasn't getting enough attention. But she returned two weeks ago, after finishing seventh at the nationals.
"Can you imagine what kind of pain she is in?" Karoyli said. "She has been working 10 years in gymnastics. She was the first black kid ever to make it to a national title. This is a pretty big injustice to not have Durham on the Olympic team. The team needs her, the country needs her."
Karolyi said he had filed a petition with the U.S. Gymnastics Federation asking that Durham be placed on the team. Though he was reluctant to say it in Durham's presence, Peters later confirmed that there is no mechanism for awarding her a place on the team. At a press conference later, Durham sat at the end of the table, while the others, flushed with their success, filled out forms for the mandatory postcompetition drug testing.
"They gave me a painkiller," she said. "It's okay. I don't have to go to doping control."
She had hopped into the room supported by her coach and a doctor. Officials handed her a pair of crutches as she left.