Jason Gatson is heading to the surgeon. Vanessa Atler may need more visits to a sports psychologist.
Two of the top U.S. contenders for gymnastics medals at the Sydney Olympics have a lot of work to do before the 2000 Games. Both teenagers fell short of their goal--a national title--at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships that ended Saturday. Gatson was thwarted by injury, while Atler was undone once again by a fall on the uneven bars.
Gatson, 18, one of the nation's top male gymnasts, tore a ligament in his right knee Friday night while leading the all-around competition. He flew back to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs on Saturday and is expected to have surgery in the next few weeks.
Gatson, whose knee buckled as he dismounted from the horizontal bar, vowed to return in time to compete in the Sydney Olympics. In recovering from the surgery, he will try to emulate John Roethlisberger--who placed second in the all-around competition this past week, less than a year after reconstructive knee surgery.
Roethlisberger, 29, a four-time national all-around champion in the early 1990s, was second to Blaine Wilson--who became the first man to win four consecutive U.S. Gymnastics Championships all-around titles.
Atler's problem may be more mental than physical. The last three years, she has fallen on the uneven bars. In 1997, that dropped her into a tie for the national all-around title. The past two years, it has allowed Kristen Maloney to edge her for the championship.
Atler, 17, is trying to solve her problems on the uneven bars. She already has seen a sports psychologist to deal with the problem.
"Sometimes they tell me to say words on my bar routine, or just to breathe and relax before I start," said Atler, who still won gold in the vault and balance beam events.
While Gatson will be healing, Atler now moves on to the world championships team trials, Sept. 15-18 in Kansas City, Mo. That event will help choose the U.S. squad for the World Gymnastics Championships Oct. 8-16 in Tianjin, China.