Courtney Kupets of Gaithersburg and Courtney McCool can breathe easy.
At what might have been the least decisive Olympic trials in U.S. history, Kupets and McCool finished in the top two positions after the women's gymnastics final at Arrowhead Pond on Sunday night and earned automatic Olympic berths -- sort of.
In USA Gymnastics-speak, they have "locked on" to the U.S. team, but their slots are dependent upon final approval of national team coordinator Martha Karolyi and her two selection team comrades at a mid-July training camp, a lukewarm reward for four strenuous and stressful nights of work.
"They are guaranteed spots if the two girls will show up to the training camp in good shape," Karolyi said. "If they are not in good shape, they could be removed, but I am very confident those two girls will be very prepared in two weeks."
Despite the slight uncertainty surrounding the berth, Kupets, a senior at Magruder High, could revel in the fact that she proved herself the best all-around gymnast in the United States at two major events in the last month. That's a remarkable achievement given the quality of the competition among the women this year, but it's even more impressive given that Kupets tore her Achilles' tendon at last year's world championships -- at this very venue -- and couldn't walk for three months.
"It feels really good," Kupets said. "It's something I never imagined would happen. Coming here and placing first, it's just amazing. I'm so excited."
After a 20-minute meeting, USA Gymnastics President Bob Colarossi announced that another 10 athletes were invited to the camp to fight it out for the four remaining Olympic team slots. In short, the selection committee did little actual selecting after this event: Of the 16 women who competed here, only three did not receive invitations to the camp. One (Katie Heenan of South Riding) dropped out with an injury, and 12 others advanced.
"It's a lot of pressure," said Terin Humphrey, who finished seventh tonight and received a camp invitation. "It's going to be even harder and more stressful [until the camp]. We're going to have to learn to work through it."
The Olympic team selection camp takes place at the Karolyi ranch in Houston July 13-18. The competition there will occur behind closed doors under the scrutiny of Karolyi and selection committee members Larissa Fontaine and Roe Kruetzer.
Karolyi's calculator started crunching back in the first week of June, when the top female gymnasts in the United States got together for the first episode of what has become an Olympic trials miniseries. Kupets and Carly Patterson tied for first at that event, the 2004 U.S. championships.
Patterson barely missed a qualifying spot here. For the last two nights, she struggled with uncharacteristic miscues, the most painful being two falls off of the balance beam. If not for those mistakes, she would have topped McCool.
Though Patterson appeared grim and despondent after the competition, Karolyi offered some reassuring words: She would have offered her an automatic berth along with McCool and Kupets if not for selection procedures requiring the selection of only two.
"The top three girls are equally fantastic," Karolyi said.
McCool recovered with flair at this competition after falling out of contention for the U.S. title in early June with a devastating fall on the uneven bars. Just 16, McCool was virtually unknown before winning the all-around gold medal at the 2004 Athens Test Event. She, however, is considered technically excellent and extremely stylish and could be a top all-arounder at the Summer Games.
"I really wanted to show them I really could do it both days [here] since I didn't really take that opportunity at championships," McCool said. "It's been the greatest year of my life in gymnastics."
Besides Kupets, McCool and Patterson, Tabitha Yim (fourth at the trials), Allyse Ishino (fifth), Mohini Bhardwaj (sixth), Humphrey, Tasha Schwikert (seventh), Carly Janiga (nine), Liz Tricase (10th), Annia Hatch (11th) and Hollie Vise (15th) were invited to camp.
Already heading to the selection camp via injury petitions were Chellsie Memmel, a former world champion on the uneven bars who is trying to return from a broken foot, along with Nicole Harris and Marcia Newby.
The long-awaited final decision on the six-member team will be inevitable after the July camp: the U.S. Olympic Committee must submit its Olympic team roster to the International Olympic Committee and Athens organizers by July 21.
The significance of tonight's competition went so far beyond the numbers on the scoreboard that the results -- other than for the top two -- were virtually irrelevant. For athletes not in contention for the top two positions, it was far more important to show excellence in targeted places rather than accruing a large number overall.
Unlike at previous Olympics, the team competition at the Aug. 13-29 Summer Games will require that three athletes from each nation compete on each apparatus with all three scores counting. In the past, one score was dropped.
The rule change means Karolyi and her selection committee counterparts have been seeking rock-solid athletes for all of the disciplines. There is simply no margin for error. In other words, it matters little that Hatch clearly isn't one of the top all-around U.S. gymnasts. She is a former world bronze medalist in vault, and for that, she has received a long, hard look during this event and the early June U.S. championships.
"Some individuals did a tiny bit better, some a tiny bit worse" than expected, Karolyi said. "All across the board, it seems we are really in the right place . . . to whittle down the team to our best performers."