THE U.S. OLYMPIC Gymnastics Trials arrive in Salt Lake Wednesday amid intrigue, suspense, tension, apprehension and high anxiety.
The competition in the arena is also expected to be spirited.True to the form seen as the Los Angeles Games came to a close in 1984, and as perpetuated on a continuing basis in the quadrennium since, the U.S. gymnastics world is landing in Salt Lake on schedule and somewhat, well, askew. Remember the final crowning moment in L.A., when Bela Karolyi leaped over the barricades and onto the arena floor at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion to give his protege, Mary Lou Retton, a gold-medal hug seen 'round the world?
Karolyi's leap appeared to be one of those wild, unthinking, full-of-emotion moments that great Olympic moments create - like when coach Sam Mussabini tossed his hat in the air in a room across from the stadium when Harold Abrahams won the 100 meters in "Chariots of Fire."
Only later was it revealed that Karolyi had premeditated his spontaneity, and, to avoid any potential embarrassment on international TV, had practiced leaping the barricade the day before.
So it has gone with U.S. gymnastics, on the women's side particularly. The real action is behind the scenes. You can't tell the subplots or the principals without a program - and sometimes not even then - but they'll all be here in Salt Lake this week.
The question is: Are the streets wide enough?
In recent weeks there have been any number of controversies, including:
- Someone - presumably from inside the USGF - leaks information to the IRS and the U.S. Department of Justice that $1.7 million in USGF income over the past two years was not properly reported to the IRS.
- This same someone reveals a possible conflict of interest by USGF executive director Mike Jacki for paying for equipment manufactured by a former business partner.
- In response to the above, Mike Donahue, president of the USGF, accuses University of Utah coach - and former U.S. women's head coach - Greg Marsden of leaking the above.
- Marsden says he has a good idea who might have leaked the information, but it wasn't him.
- Karolyi boycotts a meet in Las Vegas and calls for the ouster of women's head coach Don Peters, and the installation of, ahem, himself.
- Karolyi says on Good Morning America that the top American judge, Delene Darst, is unfair and corrupt.
- Mark Lee, coach of Rocky Mountain Gymnastics in Salt Lake, goes on record pledging support for Peters and decrying Karolyi's "intimidation" of judges.
- Karolyi resigns as the head of delegation for Seoul.
- Jacki says he'll talk Karolyi out of the resignation.
- And Marsden reveals that at the World Championships last year in The Netherlands he was approached by the Romanians to fix scoring.
Investigations, inquiries and/or negotiations are proceeding on all of the above.
Meanwhile, there's an Olympic team to select.
All of the above named cast of characters, and unnamed cast of characters, will be involved in that process this week in the Salt Palace. All, that is, with the ironic exception of Marsden.
It was Marsden - the U. of U. wonderboy who turned a two-inch wrestling mat into six national gymnastics championships - who paved the way for these Trials to be in Salt Lake. And it was Marsden who was supposed to be the women's coach this week.
His tenure as the U.S. women's coach lasted less than six months, from June of 1987 to November, when he resigned. He was disenchanted by the politics that prevented him from being a real coach. He was tired of being blasted by Karolyi, who first lobbied for Marsden as the head coach and then questioned his qualifications when Marsden didn't select Karolyi as an assistant coach.
He could live without it.
"I went through the Pan Am Games and the world championships," reflects Marsden. "Going in I thought it was Christmas morning, and then it was like somebody told me there wasn't a Santa Claus. When you see what's going on behind the scenes sometimes it isn't always pretty.
"I think they found it hard to imagine that someone who was given that position could give it up. But for me, and my nature, that's what I chose to do. I don't have any gripes with the people in the USGF. But I'm back doing what I want to do, and enjoying it. I'm back in a situation where I don't have to deal with that stuff.
"To me, it's fun again," he says. "These are the Olympic Trials. There are flags and balloons and it's Christmas again."