Three Washington area gymnasts wrapped up this meet in the same corner of the arena, competing on the same event and facing the same pounding pressures, but, even so, their nights couldn't have ended any more differently: Courtney Kupets landed on her feet. Ashley Postell and Katie Heenan landed on their rears. Never has the distinction between standing and sitting been any more resounding.
Kupets's clutch finish allowed her to surge back into the lead she had briefly lost on Saturday, tying Carly Patterson to claim a piece of the national all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships just nine months after surgery to repair a torn Achilles' tendon.
Postell and Heenan, meantime, became the first significant victims of the surplus of talent this year in the women's program. With their unfortunate dismounts, both witnessed the evaporation of their hopes of making the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. The pair, previously among the stars of the U.S. team, finished in the two most agonizing spots available. The top 12 women Saturday night advanced to the June 24-27 U.S. Olympic team trials in Anaheim, Calif.
Postell finished 13th. Heenan was 14th.
While Postell and Heenan, who both train in Burke, shed tears over their misfortune, Kupets, who won her first U.S. all-around title last year, couldn't stop grinning. Many considered Patterson, who won the American Cup in New York this spring by sweeping four events, the event favorite.
"This shows the rest of the world how strong we are," said Kupets, from Gaithersburg. "We don't have one, we have two national champions this year. Tell them that we're coming and we're coming strong."
Postell and Heenan, actually, won't be going anywhere, except to college. Postell plans to attend the University of Utah and Heenan, the University of Georgia.
"I'm very upset," Postell told a USA Gymnastics official, declining to talk to reporters.
"It is disappointing," Heenan said. "I didn't have my best meet. . . . It wasn't meant to be, that's how I'm looking at it right now. I did everything I possibly could."
It has often been said that the United States, which won the team gold medal at last year's world championships, is so awash in talent it could field two medal-winning teams at the Summer Games. Among those moving to Anaheim include Terin Humphrey, who finished third; Courtney McCool, fourth; Allyse Ishino, fifth; and Liz Tricase, sixth.
At least three others who did not compete Saturday night are likely to attend via injury petitions: Chellsie Memmel, Hollie Vise and Annia Hatch, who withdrew after experiencing knee soreness this morning. Hatch had been in ninth place after Thursday.
Women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said the pressure would increase at the trials, which are only the second of three steps in the complex process of choosing the women's Olympic team. The top two finishers there are ensured an invitation to the final selection camp in Houston in July.
A selection committee will choose the six Olympians and three alternates by July 18.
At the trials, Karolyi said, she is looking "even more for consistency. They need to be able to perform at any time and under any conditions: warmup or no warmup, big crowds yelling, all that. We know the level of their routines. Now, we're testing: Are they able to function always?"
Postell and Heenan did not function Saturday night. Their falls just minutes apart on the uneven bars cost both greatly: Postell earned an 8.3 (out of 10); Heenan an 8.4.
Kupets, who held a lead of .075 over Patterson when Saturday night's finals began, lost it for the first time after the third of four events. On the final rotation, Patterson took a step on the landing of her vault and received a relatively low score of 9.250, leaving an opportunity for Kupets on the uneven bars.
Kupets said she was more apprehensive than usual. She needed a score of 9.6 to tie. Her routine was smooth, though Kupets landed with a slight hop in the dismount.
"Both of them are excellent," Karolyi said. "They push each other to get stronger."