Melissa Marlowe moved up five enormous places to sixth - a position that would put her on the Olympic team if she can stay there during Saturday's optional round - but even Salt Lake City's favorite daughter had to take a backseat to the nights had by Phoebe Mills, Kelly Garrison-Steves, Brandy Johnson and Hope Spivey.
All four of the visitors scored more than 39 points in the all-around Thursday night in the Salt Palace during the compulsory round of exercises in the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics trials that were attended by 7,190."The scores were pretty much right," said Marlowe. "I was expecting it. This is the best the U.S. has, and the scores should be high."
In fact, Spivey's 39.088 total and career-best beam score of 9.9 was virtually lost as the other three scored career-high compulsory all-around totals that were worthy of a bring-on-the-world posture. Garrison-Steves' total was her best ever in any competition, compulsory or optional.
Mills ended her evening with a 9.95 floor exercise score that followed a 9.975 on balance beam. "That's the best beam I've ever done in a compulsory competition," said Mills, who found that inspirational.
She totaled 39.438 for the compulsory round - that's .562 point from perfection through four events - and maintained her overall lead for the two legs of competition so far, though that's no longer something she worries about.
"That's why I've been doing so well lately," says Mills, who has probably been the top American woman for the past year. "It's because I haven't been worrying about those kinds of things. I'm 100 percent focused."
Mills says she learned from meets when she was younger that, "The way I can be the best is when I'm to myself.
"Just as long as I went in and had fun and was consistent," Mills said.
Garrison-Steves and Johnson tied for the evening, each scoring 39.401, and each moved up slightly in overall standings, although Garrison-Steves remains second behind Mills.
Mills' overall total is 59.539, including her score from the Houston Championships of the USA qualifying meet that counts 40 percent and Thursday's round of compulsories. The Salt Lake City trials count 60 percent toward making the six-woman Olympic team; compulsories count 60 percent of that, with optionals counting 40 percent.
Because the compulsories of this meet are weighted so heavily, Garrison-Steves almost cut Mills' lead in half. It was .54 coming into the meet, but now it's .242. Garrison-Steves' factored score is 59.297.
"It's pretty tight," Mills allowed. "The people that are going to make it are the ones who are consistent and hit all their routines."
Garrison-Steves, the two-time NCAA all-around champion who is the oldest woman in this competition at age 21, said the Salt Palace crowd that cheered her helped. "It makes you want to perform for them and thank them," she said. The Oklahoman's many college meets at the University of Utah make her known here.
Garrison-Steves said she finally felt at home with her compulsory balance beam routine, although it wasn't the best she's ever done. In college, she doesn't do compulsories, so it takes her awhile to get used to them when in international-level meets. "The thing about beam was I finally felt comfortable and at ease," she said.
Johnson moved from sixth to fourth place at 59.017, thanks to a 9.9 on floor and 9.925 on bars. Spivey remained third.
Johnson said her floor total was especially good because she'd have 9.55 in the national championships.
Chelle Stack, a Karolyi's teammate of Mills and Johnson as well as four others in this meet, dropped one place to fifth with a 38.526 compulsory score and 58.571 total.
Next comes Marlowe, with a 38.538 for the night and 58.235 overall, .263 out of fifth.
"I've moved up, and I'm psyched for Saturday," said Marlowe, whose 9.738 score on her last event, floor, solidified her sixth-place standing. Marlowe said she was unaware that she needed a good floor score. "I did not know what place I was in until the whole thing was over," she said. "Actually, I did not think I was in the top six, and that came as a surprise.
"It helps, but it also puts pressure on because sixth place is a real precarious position to be in. Basically what it tells me is that there's absolutely no room for mistakes," Marlowe said.
She'd have moved up even more, but for the second meet in a row, balance beam was a sore spot. She scored 9.5 without a fall. In Houston, she'd had 9.4 with a fall.
"There were problems," Marlowe said of her beam. "I didn't think to the end of a couple things that I did mess up on, like the mount and the full turn."
Marlowe has long wondered what effect the hometown crowd would have on her in the biggest meet of her life. "It helped me get pumped up and energized me," she said. "The adrenalin was really flowing."
Bela Karolyi, coach of Mills, Johnson, Kristie Phillips, Stack and others, fired back that the Salt Palace crowd pressured judges to score Marlowe highly.
In the Houston championships, visiting athletes said Karolyi's hometown show there influenced judging. He said Wednesday night that the hometown Houston crowd made his girls nervous and hindered their scores.
But Thursday he said Marlowe's hometown crowd here of "highly motivated, high-spirited people . . . put pretty good pressure on the judges."
Karolyi said Marlowe's beam score was too high for a routine "which I considered shaky," Karolyi said. And he said her floor score "was higher than it was supposed to be. The crowd was asking a higher score," he said.
Phillips, a former national champion, moved up from ninth to eighth.
The second-biggest jump of the night was made by Joyce Wilborn of the Parkettes (Pa.) club. She moved up three places to 11th on the strength of a 10.0 vault, the only 10.0 score of the night. It was unanimous by all six judges.