Ray Wins National Gymnastics Title

Sunday, July 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Thanks, Magnificent Seven, but the new kids are doing just fine on their own at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

While the 1996 Olympians were showing some rust to go with their gold, Elise Ray, Kristen Maloney, Vanessa Atler and Jamie Dantzscher proved they're up to the task of bringing home a medal from Sydney.

Ray ended Maloney's two-year run as national champion, narrowly winning with 76.987 points. She sealed her victory with two solid vaults, and coach Kelli Hill and several USA Gymnastics officials jumped from their seats at Kiel Center when she finished.

Ray came off the podium with a big smile on her face and was immediately swallowed up in a hug from Hill. Maloney then came over to congratulate Ray, and the two friends hugged.

Ray was just 0.275 points ahead of Maloney, who finished with 76.712 points. Dantzscher was third with 75.700, and Atler was fourth with 75.412.

Shannon Miller and Jaycie Phelps skipped Saturday night's all-around finals with injuries and will petition for a spot at next month's Olympic trials. That cut the Magnificent Seven to three — Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow — and they were less than magnificent.

Chow slipped from third to sixth, finishing with 75.175 points. Dominique Moceanu finished in eight place with 73.424 points, and Dawes was right behind her with 73.412.

The top 12 finishers at nationals advanced to next month's Olympic trials, where Bela Karolyi will head a committee that will choose a six-member team. Performances at nationals and trials will be used to rank the gymnasts, but they won't be binding.

Moceanu, competing on a sprained left ankle, was solid but not spectacular, scoring one 8.9 and not earning anything higher than a 9.425.

Dawes, who only began training seriously in April, had Karolyi pumping his fists and high-fiving anyone who got near him after a stunning routine on the uneven bars that moved her from 13th place to ninth.

But she struggled on the balance beam and vault. A shaky landing of her aerial front somersault forced her to jump off the beam and she scored an 8.85. She landed on her seat on her first vault, and Hill gave her a long, reassuring hug afterward.

Chow started the night in third place and moved steadily downward. She took hops on each of her vaults and almost fell off the balance beam, drawing gasps from the crowd as she wobbled.

Her biggest disaster was on the uneven bars, where she won her individual silver medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Chow was doing a back somersault as she moved from the high bar to the low bar when she missed her catch and crashed into the low bar. She scored a 9.125.

The youngsters, meanwhile, were holding things together quite nicely.

Ray's mother was a dancer and her daughter has obviously inherited her grace. She practically floated through her routines, making one difficult one after another look easy. Even her mistakes looked good.

On the uneven bars, her hands appeared to slip on a release move on the top bar. It could have been disastrous — a slip has sent plenty of other gymnasts crashing to the floor — but Ray managed to grab the bar and continued on as if nothing happened.

On beam, she did her aerial back handsprings, pirouettes, somersaults with such ease she might as well have been doing them on the floor instead of an apparatus that's only four inches wide and four feet off the ground.

Maloney performed with the swagger that goes along with her two national titles. On her floor exercise, done to a series of jazzy piano numbers, she practically strutted on her dance sequences. When she finished, she allowed a little smile while her coaches cheered.

Atler — who has a bubbly personality to rival that of Mary Lou Retton — had Karolyi smiling and clapping every time she was on the podium. On her floor routine, he was clapping along as she whipped across the floor to the strains of Russian folk music.

Dantzscher, a world team member last year, might have been the surprise finisher of the night. But she stuck every one of her routines and finished out the night with a solid beam routine that sent her hurtling into her coach's arms when she finished.