The new Mary Lou Retton is more than likely in our midst, and she might just bob her way into our consciousness Sunday night, followed ever-so-slowly by that familiar Romanian face.

Coach Bela Karolyi, who went from one extreme (Nadia Comaneci) to another (Mary Lou Retton) and gave to them each a Midas touch, is here in the Washington area this weekend with his latest harem, two bundles of joy named Phoebe Mills and Chelle Stack.

However, a third bundle of joy -- Kristie Phillips -- has recently flown Karolyi's coop, registering instead with probable Olympic coach Don Peters, and she will not compete here in this weekend's McDonald's American Cup at Patriot Center, the last full-fledged international competition before the Seoul Olympics.

"To be honest, I miss her," Karolyi said the other day when reminded of Phillips. In 1986 and 1987, Phillips won this event under the direction of Karolyi, who said Phillips fled him three days after the California-based Peters became the apparent shoo-in as Olympic coach.

"I consider it too important a year for her to make a switch," said Karolyi, who believes he should be the Olympic coach, not Peters.

Nevertheless, the show at George Mason University goes on -- beginning today at noon, ending Sunday -- and Mills and Stack might be stronger than Phillips, anyway. And don't forget little Brandy Johnson, who is tan and from Florida and is coached by Kevin Brown.

If there's a global cause for this two-day event, it's -- to quote Karolyi -- "to build up a reputation going into the Olympics, to have people abroad saying, 'Hey, something's really boiling in America!' "

In other words, you need to make a name for yourself in world-class gymnastics, just like in anything else. Retton was relatively unknown when she came here in 1983. "Nobody gave a damn about her," Karolyi remembers.

But she won the American Cup and then the world in 1984, and there soon might be a similar story to tell. Mills, who recently moved to Houston to be close to Karolyi and Karolyi's wife Martha, is a 4-foot-10, 15-year-old who has surprised everyone here with her suddenly broad shoulders. The best way to describe her is "determined" and "serious," a lot like Comaneci, though Karolyi refuses to make comparisons.

Getting back to Mills, Karolyi said she is over a recent heel injury and has come back "stronger than ever." Apparently, she is now Karolyi's strongest Olympic hope, though she could definitely use a little more charsima.

In the floor exercise, where it helps to be bubbly, Mills could use some training.

"Phoebe does good dance with smiles," Karolyi said of her floor exercise. "She's very pleasant. But when the routine is over, she's not going out to seek {applause}."

Not that Mills isn't lively, but she's no Retton and certainly no Stack, 14, who describes herself as "spunky." Of course, at 4-7, 72 pounds, what else could she be? A ninth-grader in Houston, she attends two classes a day at high school (science and algebra) and does two more at home (history and health, which she says are easy). She started ballet at the age of 2, found out she had a knack for tumbling and ditched ballet class. "I prefer jazz," she said.

Her routine is jazzed up, too, though this is only her second international competition and she's eager to see where she stands. At her first event in China, she says she broke a toe in warm-ups and took a shot of Novocain so she could continue.

"Once I'd start feeling my toe, I'd get another shot," she said. She finished 16th, so she's got a lot to prove this time. "Chelle can do the same thing Mary Lou did; she can explode here," Karolyi said.

As for this weekend's men events, some like the Americans' chances here, as long as they stay healthy. Scott Johnson, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, is here, but teammmate Dan Hayden has elbow and ankle problems and is "injury prone," according to University of Nebraska coach Francis Allen.

Meanwhile, the world champion Soviet men are represented by 18-year-old Igor Korobchinsky -- making his first visit to the United States -- and China has brought powerful Li Ning.