Abie Grossfeld sat in the Salt Palace stands like any other fan during Friday night's U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, but he was more than a casual observer. He is the coach of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team, and he was there to size up his team. When all was said and done Friday night, he wasn't entirely pleased with what he saw.
"The biggest thing is that there were many more mistakes than there should have been," he said. ". . . I'm surprised by some of the mistakes and by some of the kids who made them."Indeed, there was current national champion Dan Hayden falling off the high bar - not once, but twice - and off the team, sliding all the way from third to eighth in his final event of the competition; there was Kevin Davis blowing a landing on the vault, but hanging on with a 9.3; there was Johnson struggling on the high bar but surviving with a 9.4; and there was Lakes taking a 9.3 in the vault. That was about the way the evening went.
With the Olympics just a little more than a month away, this might be cause for panic, but not so, says Grossfeld. "There's plenty of time. We've got one month straight of training. And next week we go to training camp."
Grossfeld chose to spend the two days of competition sitting in the stands, rather than roaming the floor, the better to observe his gymnasts. "I look for weaknesses and things I can help them improve on," he said. "We're also taking videos so they (the gymnasts) can see the flaws."
Grossfeld, who coached the 1972 and 1984 U.S. Olympic teams, will have just one returning team member from his gold medal team of '84 - Scott Johnson, who finished second in the trials. The rest will be Olympic rookies: Charles Lakes, Kevin Davis, Wes Suter, 18-year-old Lance Ringnald, Dominick Minicucci and alternate Tom Schlesinger (who is one of four University of Nebraska athletes to make the team).
The comparisons are inevitable. Four of the six members of the 1984 team were multi-national all-around champions and the other two were runners-up at nationals. The current team includes none.
"This team has improved a lot in the last year," says Grossfeld. "Johnson was the low scorer for us in '84, so you can see what's happened. He's in great condition. We need Scotty. He's experienced and he's a tough competitor."
rossfeld had hoped another holdover from the '84 team would make it, but Tim Daggett, a bronze medalist in the pommel horse, was unable to perform well with a seven-month-old leg injury and withdrew from the competition.
"I wish Tim had been healthy and could have done the job," said Grossfeld. "He would've made the team if not for the injury."
The star of the trials of course turned out to be Lakes, who wowed fans with his high-flying stunts on the floor and high bars. He wrapped up first place on the final event with a 9.95 on the high bar. And yet there are still a few rough spots to be smoothed out, which might give Olympic rivals a scare. For his all flashy moves, he still misses in places with some of the detail work.
hen Charles really concentrates, he takes care of the details," says Grossfeld. "He's lax in his workouts. He needs to be a little more focused. We'll make him work out a little harder and longer than he has." Lakes and Johnson could be the U.S. stars of the '88 Games, but the athlete to watch in the future probably is Ringnald, who will enter the University of Nebraska this fall as a freshman. Ringnald began the final day of competition in eighth place, climbed as high as fourth, then settled in at fifth.
"He's certainly a future star," said Grossfeld. "He does difficult routines now and he's only 18. He does quality work."
Grossfeld, who is head coach at Southern Connecticut University, should know talent when he sees it. Besides coaching three Olympic teams and guiding the U.S. to its first and only team gold medal, he also has been head coach of five World Championship teams. He also competed in 14 national championships and two Olympic Games. "I'm an old-timer," he says, and requests that his age not be printed.
If Grossfeld prides himself on anything, it would seem to be his fairness and trust among the athletes. He mentions both frequently. He didn't have a single athlete in the Trials competition, and he seems to prefer it that way.
This is in sharp contrast to the women's side of things, where Bela Karolyi and Don Peters have athletes competing for spots on the Olympic team. Curiously, the men's team has escaped the many distracting, off-the-floor squabbles that have plagued the women's team in recent years.
"I can be objective," said Grossfeld. "If you have an athlete on the team, you want your athlete to do well." And a coach with a vested interest can help his own athlete by, for example, placing him/her later in the lineup, where scores tend to be higher."
Later, continuing, Grossfeld says, "The gymnasts are comfortable with me. They know me and they know I'm fair. For some reason there is a lack of comfort on the women's team."
Asked to assess his newest Olympic team's chances in the upcoming Games, he says, "I don't know. I haven't seen the other teams yet."