After Bela Karolyi blocked Missy Marlowe's path to the vault last month at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials as he argued a score with the meet referee, he said the impedence was unintentional. He said he wished someone had told him to move earlier.
Nearly everyone else in the Salt Palace during that Thursday-night compulsory phase of the competition, including Salt Lake City's Marlowe, figured Karolyi probably had stood in the runway on purpose. A rival coach, Bill Strauss of Pennsylvania's Parkettes, swore at Karolyi to get him to move and said later he'd done it to "protect Missy."If it was a conscious act by Karolyi, it was surely the ultimate compliment to Marlowe - to have the world's best-known gymnastics coach worry enough about her to literally stand in her way.
It didn't matter. Marlowe was beginning what would be the best meet of an career international career that has one meet left - the Olympics.
If she could overcome the anxiety of performing in what was then the most important meet of her life in front of family, friends, classmates and Rocky Mountain Gymnastics teammates in what they'd proclaimed with banners as "Marlowe Country," she could surely block out Karolyi's antics.
She scored .15 less in compulsory vault than she had three weeks before in the Championships of the USA, the Olympic trials qualifying meet, but by the end of the compulsory round of the Olympic trials, she had moved from 11th place to sixth. It was by far the biggest jump of anyone in the 45-athlete field assembled in Salt Lake City for the men's and women's trials.
By the time the Olympic team was named two days later, she had beaten back the challenges of Karolyi Kids Rhonda Faehn and Kristie Phillips for the sixth
nd final spot on the Olympic team and had narrowed the difference between herself and fifth-place Chelle Stack of Karolyi's by .1 in adjusted scoring.
She'd proved Karolyi had had good reason to worry about her.
Marlowe's 39.189 optional-round score was the second-best of the day, behind a career-best 39.651 by Olympic trials all-around champion and Karolyi Kid Phoebe Mills, and it was the fifth-highest in any round of the entire two-meet qualifying process.
Because Marlowe had her best total ever - beating 39.0 for the first time - she is the Deseret News Athlete of the Month for August.
She is also in Seoul, Korea, right now, awaiting the Sept. 18 start of the women's competition.
Marlowe, the Rowland Hall-St. Mark's senior-to-be, is the first gymnast to ever grow up training in Utah and make it to the Olympics.
There will be three parts to the women's Olympics - the team competition, the individual all-around finals, and the individual-apparatus finals. Competition lasts through Sept. 24.
Marlowe, who turned 17 on Aug. 25, is not expected to win an all-around medal. She was 23rd at the 1987 World Championships. Her only international-meet all-around victory was in 1986 at Stans, Switzerland, in a three-team meet against the Swiss and Dutch. She was second all-around in the 1986 Brazil Cup and the 1985 Catina (Italy) Cup.
Marlowe and her U.S. teammates - Mills, Kelly Garrison-Steves, Hope Spivey, Brandy Johnson and Stack - do have fair shots at making it to the all-around medal round. The top 36 all-arounders - but only two per country - advance from the team competition to the medal round.
Marlowe's uneven bars set might be good enough to stand up in the face of the best the world has to offer. She was beaten only by Stack at the trials, and training in Houston with the rest of the U.S. team for the past couple of weeks may have put the final polish on Marlowe's Olymic routine. Being from Utah, she's rarely had the opportunity to train with other gymnasts of her caliber.
She won the uneven bars gold at the 1987 Pan Am Games and tied for first on bars in the 1987 McDonald's Challenge USA/USSR meet. A Scripps Howard News Service Olympic outlook story mentions Mills as the best American and adds, "The Americans will have their moments, particularly when Melissa Marlowe hits the uneven bars, Kelly Garrison-Steves tries the balance beam and Hope Spivey hits the floor exercise."
Marlowe, who began gymnastics at age 8 in one of Greg Marsden's University of Utah kids' programs, has competed in 10 foreign countries - Korea is the 11th - and 16 international-class meets.
Following the Olympics, Marlowe expects to tone down her training and concentrate on high school. She's a 3.5 student despite the distractions. She will probably accept a gymnastics scholarship to a college, perhaps Utah or perhaps somewhere in California, probably depending at least partly on what major she chooses; she's thought of architecture, nutrition and sports psychology.