Stacey Gunthorpe, 14, the latest of renowned Coach Bela Karolyi's upcoming gymnasts, leads a field of 51 women competing for eight spots on the U.S. team that will travel to Israel for the 12th Maccabiah Games, July 15-25.
Gunthorpe, from Freehold, N.J., totaled 37.65 points for the four events in yesterday's compulsory round at Montgomery Rockville-College. Alyssa Solomon, 14, of Wayside, N.J., scored 36.40 to rank second.
Five-year MarVaTeen gymnast Marni Rager, 15, and Nadya Mason, 12, rank third and fifth overall, respectively, with scores of 36.35 and 35.90. The top six seniors (14 and above) and two juniors (14 and under) will be chosen for the U.S. squad, to be coached by MarVaTeen Coach Gary Anderson.
Gunthorpe took the lead in the first event, scoring 9.75 on a dazzling uneven bar routine that far surpassed most of the others in the degree of difficulty. Her score dropped to 8.70 on the beam, despite three back flips and a forward jump flip, because she fell after the dismount.
Karolyi said he was pleased with Gunthorpe's performance, "excepting the mistake on the dismount of the beam (following a double forward flip). "I know she can perform. It's satisfying seeing strong athletes coming up to perfection."
Karolyi started coaching Gunthorpe last June as one of 11 girls he coaches on an everyday basis -- including 17-year-old Mary Lou Retton, the Olympic gold medalist.
"We are all the time preparing for the next generation," Karolyi said. "You've got to find something new.
"We certainly tie a lot of hope into her improving," Karolyi added. "One day she will be the most remarkable gymnast of the United States. She will flash up on the scene just as Mary Lou did three years ago."
Rager, of Silver Spring, scored best on the vault, earning a 9.45. She was selected as a second alternate for the Maccabiah Games in 1981.
"I didn't do my best," Rager said. "I held back on the beam (8.6). I was a little nervous. Tomorrow, hopefully, I will do better."
Mason, of Washington, D.C., scored best with crowd-pleasing routines on the uneven bars (9.1) and vault (9.0).
"I think I did really well today. On the bar, I went all out for it. I'm really happy," said Mason, who used her 4-foot-8, 79-pound frame to her advantage to notch her second vault attempt after missing on the landing of the first.
Mason stands in third place in the junior category, though, behind Solomon and Lisa Lazar (36.20) of Easton, Pa.