Don Peters, the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics coach in both 1984 and '88, can hardly play favorites this week with the Olympic trials coming up and competition for the six spots on the team the tightest it's ever been.

But Peters has strong reasoning for hoping Salt Lake City's Melissa Marlowe will be one of the six."One thing I would really like about (having) Missy is she has potentially very strong compulsory exercises, and I'm a big believer that you've got to be tough in compulsories," Peters says.

He once did a study covering 10 years of major international competitions and found that, in 95 percent of the cases, a team never moved up after compulsories. "Where they finished in compulsories is where they finished," Peters says. Because of that, he instituted the 60/40 system that weights compulsories heavier in making the team.

Teams go into the Olympics without seeding. They are seeded according to their finish in the compulsories, and the judges often follow that seeding when giving out scores. "It's happened to us many times," says Peters. "We'd go out in the second-to-last rotation and perform well in optionals, and I'd climb up in the stands and watch the last rotation and see a team be a lot worse than we were and still beat us.

"If you want to win a medal, you've got to be in the last round, and if you want to be in the last round, you've got to be in the top four in compulsories.

"Missy has among the better compulsory routines on the team, and that would be helpful."

Marlowe, who has thought about a career as an architect, has an emotional makeup that lends itself to the exacting business of compulsory routines, says sports psychologist Dr. Keith Henschen of the University of Utah. He's been working with Marlowe for about two years.

"She's a very precise, accurate person, and that's what you have to be," Henschen says. "She's almost a perfectionist, and she takes a good part of that perfectionism and uses it in compulsories.

"She really likes that and knows that's her forte and that, probably, that's what's going to get her on the team."