- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — What injury?

Courtney Kupets, of Gaithersburg, Md., proved she’s back in a big way with four solid performances last night at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. The injury Kupets spent a year recovering from, a torn left Achilles’ tendon, wasn’t a factor last night as she nailed every routine.

“I feel great. My foot feels fine,” Kupets said. “I wouldn’t have come out here … without being totally focused and concentrated.”

She wasn’t the only one to win over the crowd and the judges in what has been called the toughest field for women in U.S. gymnastics history.

Carly Patterson also drew cheers that reached decibels even cicadas can’t muster.

When the Olympic roster is discussed these two gymnasts are always in the mix and they showed why last night by finishing 1-2. Patterson has not finished below second since 2001.

“Of course I want to win, but you can’t think about that,” Patterson said. “Whoever is most consistent is going to be on top.”

With all the up-and-comers, there were questions if there would be room near the top for Tasha Schwikert, who competed at the 2000 Games and is the only former Olympian at the nationals. Schwikert was one of several surprises last night and sits in third place heading into tomorrow’s competition.

“[Competing] felt a little foreign,” Schwikert said. “It’s not over yet, but I’m happy for what I did tonight.”

Each of the top three claimed an event title. Kupets won the beam with a 9.725. Patterson won the floor exercise with a 9.7 and Schwikert claimed the bars title with a 9.65.

The feel-good story of the night belonged to Annia Hatch. After a severe knee injury nine months ago there were doubts the 25-year-old would be able to compete, let alone place near the top.

Hatch did compete and defended her vault title with 9.625 after a rock-solid landing, one of the few of the night on vault. Hatch sits in ninth overall.

The much-hyped Courtney McCool had three fantastic routines before competing on uneven bars, where she let go of the bar early on her dismount and landed on her back.

McCool scored an uncharacteristic 8.725 and is in 8th overall.

The fall likely won’t matter in terms of her Olympic chances, but since last night counted for 50 percent of her overall score, the national title is probably out of her grasp.

Local gymnasts Ashley Postell and Katie Heenan, both out of Capital Gymnastics in Burke, have a lot of work ahead. Heenan is 14th and Postell 15th.

Postell started the night horribly on bars when she took an extra swing on the high bar that threw her off. Her foot hit the low bar and she was forced to jump down. Her other three events went well, but the 8.625 on bars could not be overcome. She finished in a four-way tie for third on beam, her best event.

Heenan had a solid bars routine, but it wasn’t enough for a top three finish in her best event.

There is room for 12 at the Olympic Trials, and both Postell and Heenan will try to find a way to get to the Trials.

Rounding out the top six were Terin Humphrey, Allyse Ishino and Tabitha Yim — all three finishing higher than expected.

But as commentator and former Olympian Shannon Miller said, nothing in this competition is a sure bet.

“We were trying to figure out who to keep our eyes on tonight, and basically, it’s every single person,” Miller said.

Tomorrow’s all-around competition will probably bring more twists and turns.

“I think it’s going to be even more nerve-racking,” Schwikert said. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Note — Two top gymnasts were noticeably absent. Chellsie Memmel and Hollie Vise, both of whom were on the 2003 U.S. team that won an unlikely gold at worlds, are out with injuries. They will petition to get into the Olympic trials. Vise withdrew two days ago with a back muscle problem. She said yesterday that doctors did not give her a specific diagnosis. She originally planned to return to Texas but found a doctor in Nashville and remained in town to cheer on her teammates.

Vise isn’t used to sitting on the sideline.

“It’s a lot different than working out seven hours a day, but I have to give it rest,” she said. Vise expects to be back to her normal seven hours a day of training in a week.

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