Before we start, an editorial comment right here in a news story: Wouldn't it be good to avoid breaking up a nice set like the Hayden twins, Dan and Dennis?

They look alike, dress alike, walk alike, talk alike, are crew-cut alike. When healthy, they perform gymnastics with like abilities. Sometimes they even get hurt alike. And when they don't think alike, they talk it over until they do.But Dan, currently the more healthy of the two, is the reigning national all-around champion and stands as the leader going into Wednesday's compulsory round of Olympic gymnastics trials at the Salt Palace. Competition begins at 7:30 p.m.

Barring injury, it's unlikely Dan won't make the six-man Olympic team that will be decided in the Palace this week and earn a trip to Korea next month.

But for them to remain a matched set and both go to Seoul, Dennis must also finish in the top six, or at least make seventh - traveling alternate.

Dennis, coming back from a two-year layoff enforced by injuries, is in 11th place. His vaulting and floor exercise hadn't come back from a December foot injury in time for the July 9 qualifying meet for the trials, the Championships of the USA in Houston.

"I know I can get in there," says Dennis. "It's just a matter of doing the job."

Dennis has upgraded his optional floor exercise routine - that will be seen Friday night at the men's finals; the women's compulsories are Thursday night and women's optional finals Saturday afternoon - adding a double Arabian front worth an extra .3 point.

In actual scoring from the Houston qualifier, Dan leads second-place Kevin Davis 116.85-116.25. Dennis totaled 114.05. But, with the Houston meet factored down to its actual 40 percent value, Dan has a score of 46.74, Davis 46.50 and Dennis 45.62. With the trials counting 60 percent toward making the Olympic team, Dennis goes into the competition 1.12 points behind his brother but only .26 out of the crucial sixth place.

"I'm just happy to be here and have a chance to make the Olympic team," says Dennis, allowing for the dislocations and breaks in his foot.

If Dennis isn't able to make the Olympic team, the twins aren't sure what they'd do. Certainly, they've traveled and competed apart from each other - but this is the Olympics.

"Maybe I'll sneak into his luggage," Dennis says.

The Hayden twins, 23, have just about always seen eye to eye on everything. At age 6, they won strength contests against their four older brothers so often their mother told the brothers to take the twins to the Y, "to do something with that strength," says Dennis. There they learned gymnastics and excelled immediately.

"Dennis learns things faster than I do and is probably a little more talented," says Dan, who considers himself a little stronger. "It takes me longer to learn a skill, but once I get it, I have it."

"Dan is very disciplined in his skill training," says Dennis. "He does single skills to perfection - solid, not wiggling. I'm a little more relaxed, a more free swinger."

Dan's best event, with that strength and perfection, is parallel bars, which he won at the Championships of the USA, getting a 10.0 in compulsories. Dennis considers rings his best and will add a new move out of an "L," a straight-body, straight-arm press through to a handstand.

Both like the high bar and have definitive moves. Dennis does back-to-back reverse Hechts, a "D" difficulty skill times two, in which he releases in front of the bar, goes over, counter-rotates and catches, then swings it back the other way. Dan does a Kovacs, a release with a 1 1/2 back flip over the bar to a recatch.

Because they were so talented in gymnastics, they left home in New York together at age 15 to train seriously. Dan says they've been concentrating ever since on "always striving to be the top in the world."

Injuries became a way of life for the twins, who even suffered the same injury at the same time - fractured vertebrae. An Arizona doctor did a study on them, thinking the coincidental fractures had to do with prenatal calcium deficiency caused by two fetuses.

The back injuries and their growing interest in religion led the brothers to learn Swedish massage and accupressure to facilitate their own healing. They learned hand-healing techniques from library books. "We've never hurt each other," Dennis says.

They chose hand-healing because they felt it in line with the religious beliefs they'd formed through study. They call their religion "Christianity" and don't align themselves with a particular church. "It's more a way of life," says Dennis.

"We tried to figure out what way we could make a difference," says Dan. "We would talk about, `What is the truth?"'

They also talked about going to college where they could make a difference, and they picked Arizona State, whose longtime coach had never won an NCAA title. They were there two years, and in 1986, ASU won the NCAAs with Dan winning high bar and taking third all-around. Dennis, recovering from knee surgery, chipped in third on pommel horse. In 1985, while Dennis was out, Dan won NCAA high and parallel bars and was second all-around.

They continued to train together in Arizona until a recent move back to the East. Dan and wife Barbara and Dennis and wife Tanya moved to the Woodward Gymnastics Camp near State College, Pa., to improve their financial situations and to be closer to the rest of their family. Tanya is an instructor at the camp, Barbara is a secretary, and the twins do clinics while training with Ed Isabelle.

Because of Dennis' injuries, Dan has about three times the international experience of his brother, so they have been apart at times, but there isn't much they don't do together. They claim different personalities but compromise on disagreements.

In fact, while trying to quickly think of something they did independently, Dennis laughed, "Well, we married different wives."

(Another editorial comment:) What a radical concept.