Acting as the leadoff hitter for the U.S. gymnastics team, Salt Lake City's Missy Marlowe helped set the tone for an unexpectedly strong compulsory routine team showing as the women's Olympic competition began Monday in the Olympic Gymnastics Hall.

The 17-year-old Salt Laker, who qualified No. 6 for the six-member U.S. team, was the first American gymnast to perform in both the floor exercise and the vault, the team's first two events.Her scores of 9.625 and 9.6, respectively, were not personal bests but were strong enough to get the judging going in the right direction, which is up.

Her teammates' scores spiraled upward in both events. On the floor, Chelle Stack scored a 9.7 as the second American. She was followed by Kelly Garrison-Steves with a 9.8, Theresa Spivey with another 9.8, Brandy Johnson with a 9.875 and Phoebe Mills with a 9.9 that attracted the loudest cheer of the night.

On the vault, Mills followed Marlowe with a 9.65. Then came Garrison-Steves with a 9.7, Spivey with a 9.725, Stack with a 9.675, and Johnson with a 9.85.

The U.S. team scored a 49.075 combined total on the floor, second only in the team competition to the Soviet Union's 49.25 posted earlier in the evening. On the vault they totaled 49.075, also second best (again behind the Soviets) of all the teams.

After all four compulsory disciplines - adding the beam and uneven bars, where the American team slipped slightly - the U. S., with 194.950 points, stood in fourth place, behind the Soviet Union (197.325), Romania (196.425) and East Germany (195.425), and ahead of Bulgaria (194.375).

Coming into the Games, the relatively inexperienced U.S. team wasn't figured to contend with the Russians, Bulgarians, East Germans and Romanians. But with the strong compulsory showing, the team becomes a definite medal hopeful.

Marlowe added a 9.75 on the uneven bars and had her only disappointment on the beam, where a fall near the end of her routine caused her to record a low 8.975. Her all-around total for the night was 37.950, well back in that department. But there was no questioning the strength of her early leadoff work.

"You need a real strong gymnast to lead off, to set the stage, to get things going," said Mark Lee, one of four U.S. co-coaches and Marlowe's longtime personal coach at the Rocky Mountain Gymnastics Club in Salt Lake.

"It's not the position you want for individual honors," said Lee. "Everybody knows that the scores rise in gymnastics, that's just the way it is. For the team, you want to set a high standard with the first gymnast."

The team competition will continue Wednesday in the Olympic Hall with the optional exercises portion of the program. After team medalists are decided the top individuals emerging from the team routines will move into an all-around competition.

Monday night's Olympic spotlight marked a personal triumph for Marlowe, who was first introduced to the sport of gymnastics at a community tumbling class offered by the Salt Lake School District at Bryant Junior High.

She moved on to the Rocky Mountain Club in 1982, signing up for a $100-a-month program with Lee, an ex-college gymnast who had just started up the club.

"She was one of the first kids to come through the door after we opened," he said Monday, reflecting on how fast the past six years had gone by, and on the improbable circumstances he and his star pupil found themselves in.

"It's amazing, really," he said.

Marlowe never did train under any other coach. She didn't leave her hometown, unlike many young gymnasts. The American team, by way of comparison, is comprised mainly of girls who moved to Houston to work fulltime under the guidance of coach Bela Karolyi. Missy stayed home, and made it to the Olympic Games anyway.