Reprinted from Friday's editions
It was a night of nerves, a night of jockeying, a night of fumbling. Sixteen women gathered at Arrowhead Pond for Friday night's preliminary round of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials hoping to begin nudging their way into one of six Olympic team spots that won't be officially handed out until mid-July. The evening, however, provided little clarity and a lot of cringing.
Gaithersburg's Courtney Kupets performed solidly and avoided major mistakes, claiming first place entering Sunday's finale. She did not, however, put forth a dominant performance a la Paul Hamm, the reigning world all-around men's champion who has commandeered the men's competition.
Kupets, at least, kept herself comfortably on the Olympic team A-list of women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, who scrutinized every routine from the arena floor. Kupets, the U.S. silver medalist on the uneven bars, posted the night's best score in that event and led with a total of 38.075 points.
Courtney McCool, who fell out of contention for the gold at the U.S. championships after falling on the uneven bars, also performed steadily despite a stumble on her floor exercise. She had the night's best performance on the balance beam and finished second behind Kupets (37.775), probably raising her stock as others merely raised questions.
Carly Patterson, who tied Kupets for the U.S. title earlier this month, fell off the balance beam. Katie Heenan, who trains in Burke, made a major mistake on the uneven bars, her best event, then tumbled forward on her landing. Annia Hatch, trying to prove she is healthy after bowing out of nationals midway through because of knee soreness, and Liz Tricase, who finished sixth at nationals, also stepped off the balance beam.
Carly Janiga, 15, who emerged as a rising star after winning the all-around competition at this year's Pacific Alliance Championships in Honolulu, faltered on the uneven bars and balance beam, losing her balance three times. Allyse Ishino, fifth at nationals, tumbled off of the mat during her floor exercise and took eighth.
For most of the gymnasts, domination was less of a concern than excelling somewhere. At this year's Summer Games, the team score will be determined by all three gymnasts that compete in each event. No scores will be dropped, meaning there is no room for error. USA Gymnastics President Bob Colarossi has said the six-member Olympic team will be made up largely of specialists.
Which is perhaps why poor performances might not be fatal and a number of gymnasts elected to skip certain events. Hollie Vise, who is returning from a back injury that kept her out of nationals, did not attempt a vault. Heenan passed on the balance beam, as did Sam Sheehan, who has battled a left rotator cuff strain.
The result: It was difficult to make much of the results.
Patterson, who completed her final routine -- the floor exercise -- with nary a smile, claimed fourth place (37.575), just behind Terin Humphrey (37.625). Heenan, by virtue of a rough night and her pass on the balance beam, finished last -- 16th. Hatch, trying to make her first Olympic team after competing for the Cuban national team for seven years, couldn't put anything together. She finished tied for 10th.
Tabitha Yim, who has never been a member of a world championship team and finished just seventh in the all-around at the February Visa American Cup in New York, performed consistently -- if not spectacularly -- and was rewarded with fifth.
An early surprise was Mohini Bhardwaj, who was cheered on Friday night by former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson, who waved a "Go Mo" sign. Anderson offered Bhardwaj a $20,000 sponsorship when she heard she was selling 50/50 raffle tickets to support her training. Bhardwaj, a former UCLA gymnast, took the lead after two events but faded at the finish, landing in sixth place.
Tasha Schwikert, the U.S. champion on the uneven bars, finished seventh.