Consistency took a beating, and it dragged the leaders down with it. But on a night when even highly reliable Kevin Davis dropped to an 8.5 on floor exercise, here was Charles Lakes - who has been his own worst enemy by trying to outdo himself - staying instead within himself.

Lakes has spent the past three weeks talking himself into doing his routines the way he practices them and not freelancing during meets, and the concentration paid off.Before 6,019 at the Salt Palace, Lakes hit every routine, and his 58.10 all-around score was the best of the night Wednesday and threw him into first place overall in the race for the U.S. men's Olympic gymnastics team.

Right behind Lakes, at 58.00, was 27-year-old former Olympian Scott Johnson, who called it the best compulsory-exercise round of his long career. "I'm astonished," said Johnson, who wasn't sure he'd be able to compete this week. "I sure didn't expect it to turn out the way it did."

Johnson suffered a broken hand bone and had surgery eight weeks ago. "I was contemplating whether I'd be ready," he said, adding the hand didn't hurt for the first time Wednesday night. He missed the qualifying meet for the Olympic trials, the Championships of the USA three weeks ago in Houston and petitioned his way into this meet. Because of that, to become a two-time Olympian, he will have to place fourth or better to make it on a six-man team.

He stands second overall going into Friday night's optional round, the final night of Olympic-qualifying competition for the men.

The women's compulsory exercises will be contested tonight in the Palace, and their finals are Saturday afternoon at 12:45.

Lakes says he self destructs at times. "I'm an artist; I go for the overall effect on the crowd," he said. He has tried to stifle that urge in the three weeks since Championships of the USA. "I usually have a tendency to try and change things and do things much better. I've got to keep myself from getting too hyper," he said.

Wednesday night, "I pretty much did what we had done in the gym for three weeks."

That was victory itself. With it came the consistency that eluded Dan Hayden and Davis, among many others. Those two had been the leaders going into the trials, and a 9.95 in his final event, parallel bars, kept Hayden from falling very far, even though he suffered a 9.0 in floor exercise.

In all Wednesday, there were eight scores below 9.0, including a 7.2. There were two scores in the 8s by people who had ranked in the meet's top nine. At Houston, there were only three sub-9.0 scores in the compulsory round, and the first one was posted by the 14th placer.

Hayden and Davis, ironically, even missed the same skill in the floor exercise to generate their low scores. Neither worked the straight-body press to handstand well. Davis, who had another major break as well, walked two steps on his hands during the straight-body skill.

"I lost my balance and lost my head at the same time," said Davis. "That whole corner sequence was awful."

Davis came back with scores of 9.65, 9.75 and 9.6 in his final three events to stay in the hunt. "I didn't have time to get upset with myself," he explained.

Hayden went up too slowly and lost momentum on the press. "I hesitated. You can't hesitate," he said.

Before the Haydens' final event, the bars, Coach Ed Isabelle told Dennis to score 9.9 and Dan to score 10.0. "When Dennis got the 9.9, I had to go for the 10.0," said Dan, who got 10.0s from two judges and 9.9s from the other two. "Dennis psyched me up," he said. The 9.95 was the night's best score, but Dan had totaled 10.0 in the same compulsory at Houston.

In overall standings, Lakes' total including Houston's 40 percent factoring is 81.26. Dan Hayden is second at 81.03 (Johnson is actually second with a 58.00 but can't be listed overall yet), and Davis is third at 80.55.

Eighteen-year-old Dominick Minicucci, the second-youngest performer at the men's trials, moved up from eighth overall to fourth (fifth counting Johnson) at 80.45, one of the few who didn't have a major falter.

Minicucci, a sophomore at the University of Illinois, where Lakes once trained, said his former club coach, Jim Surgent, showed up unexpectedly at his hotel earlier in the day. "Just out of the blue," said Minicucci. "It pumped me up to see him. He came over and started pounding me."

Wes Suter stands fifth (sixth) at 82.23, and Dennis Hayden, with 9.9 on bars, also his final event, moved from 11th in Houston to sixth (seventh) at 80.21.

Lance Ringnald, 18, the youngest competitor, dropped from sixth to seventh (eighth) with a wavering pommel horse routine. "I lost momentum at the end," he said.

The other ex-Olympian in the trials by injury petition, Tim Daggett, also had problems on pommel horse (9.35) but made up for it with a 9.8 on bars and a 57.20 total that effectively puts him in eighth place for now. "I had my biggest mistake on my best routine," said Daggett. He had a triumphant moment despite a 9.35 score in floor exercise when he stuck his dismount. Dismounts in floor and vault have worried him since his leg shattered on a vault in October. He has made a remarkable recovery but hadn't landed hard on the leg in a meet until Wednesday.

Tom Schlesinger stood fourth going into his last event, high bar, but fell and scored 8.8 to drop to ninth (11th).

Brigham Young University's Bob Gauthier counted scores of 8.85 on high bar and 9.0 on parallel bars to drop from 15th to 17th.