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October 2, 2014

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Schwikert dark horse for berth in Athens

A breakdown of Tasha Schwikert's performance in the four women's disciplines at the U.S. Olympic Trials:

VAULT

Prelims: 9.100

Finals: 9.150

Tasha says: "There are still some technical issues I need to work on."

UNEVEN BARS

Prelims: 9.575

Finals: 9.525

Tasha says: "Pretty good, but I could have been a little more tighter in my stomach and as far as handstands, I was still a little wobbly. But it wasn't a bad routine. And I was so excited because that was a new dismount for me, and I've stuck it four times in a row."

BALANCE BEAM

Prelims: 9.200

Finals: 9.100

Tasha says: "Beam was a solid routine for me except for my dismount landing. But that was more knowing where I am in the landing and needing to practice it more (than a technical error). I felt more solid (Sunday) than I did (Friday)."

FLOOR EXERCISE

Prelims: 9.375

Finals: 9.100

Tasha says: "I did lose my balance twice and fall out of bounds. But the amplitude on my (tumbling) passes felt a lot better. I feel confident that when I put (some difficulty) back in, my scores are going to go up."

ALL-AROUND

Prelims: Seventh.

Finals: Ninth.

Overall: Eighth with 74.125 points.

Tasha says: "I still have some things I need to improve. More skills and stuff we need to work on and put back in. But I'm feeling a lot better."

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Well, now that Tasha Schwikert has survived the Olympic Trials ... it's on to the real Olympic Trials.

Unlike in past Olympiads, this year's U.S. Olympic Trials for the women, which concluded Sunday at the Arrowhead Pond, served only as preview/tuneup for next month's Olympic Selection Camp in Houston.

By virtue of finishing first and second here, the two Courtneys of the deep and talented American women's squad, Kupets and McCool, virtually assured themselves of berths on the team of six that will book passage to Athens. So, too, did Carly Patterson, the co-U.S. all-around champion who rallied to finish third in the trials despite falling off the balance beam twice.

"The top girls are perfect. Everything else is open," was about all Martha Karolyi, coach of the U.S. team, had to say in the aftermath of these trials, which settled very little.

The trials began with 15 gymnasts still eligible for the Olympic team -- and finished exactly the same way. Three were subtracted at the end of the day Sunday, only to be replaced by three with injuries, whose petitions to the camp at the Karolyi compound in Texas were accepted.

Schwikert, a two-time U.S. all-around champion who is battling back from foot and ankle injuries, will surely consider Karolyi's statement as an invitation to compete for one of the three remaining berths or three alternate slots to Athens. Although she slipped from her seventh-place standing in the prelims, Schwikert finished eighth among a field of 16 after the all-around scores were tallied on Sunday.

That's far enough down to keep her chances to make the Olympic team in the dark horse category. But not so far down that she can be ruled out in her quest to compete in her second Games, especially given that she is the only returnee from the team that finished fourth at Sydney four years ago.

"I'm pretty optimistic about the future," Schwikert said, only this time sounding sincere about it. "I showed that I'm healthy and pretty much consistent."

That wasn't the case at the U.S. National Championships earlier this month. After standing third following the prelims, Schwikert had a terrible second day, tumbling all the way to ninth place after the finals. Some said she had even fallen off the selection committee's radar screen.

But it would appear she did enough this weekend to get her blip back.

"The million-dollar question is what's on the mind of the committee," Schwikert said of the three-person board comprised of Karolyi, athlete representative Larissa Fontaine and Roe Kreutzer, chair of the international committee. "What are they thinking? I don't know.

"I'm totally excited about what happened tonight and just happy I made it through to the next step. I'd love to be more excited but it's hard, knowing that (the selection process) is not over yet and that we have a lot of hard work coming up."

Four years ago at this time, Schwikert knew she would be going to Sydney as an alternate (she later moved into the rotation due to injuries). But unlike most in the media, who groused that the trials were little more than a glorified exhibition, neither Schwikert nor her coach, Cassie Rice, was complaining about the convuluted selection process.

"Like we've seen in the past, injuries are part of our sport and I think it's a great selection system that they are using, waiting until the last minute," Schwikert said. "The selection committee has proven they do make the right decisions because we've been winning."

Rice is on record criticizing the selection method but at the same time, she said it has given her star pupil another chance to go for the gold.

"If it was like it was four years ago, she might not be there right now," Rice said. "Given what the scoring was, she would not be on the team. But (the camp) is going to be intense, and I'm really not looking forward to it."

Although Schwikert's form was improved, her road to Athens might have gotten a little bumpier this weekend. Three competitors that heretofore were probably behind her in the pecking order, Tabitha Yim, Allyse Ishino and Mohini Bhardwaj, moved by her, at least in the final standings and in the volume of cheers at the Pond.

Bhardwaj, the 25-year-old former UCLA star who has become a crowd and media darling, due equally to her age and a recent sponsorship from actress Pamela Anderson, wound up sixth Sunday while Yim improved to fourth and Ishino to fifth from eighth after the prelims.

Still, the committee members have said they will select performers who will enhance the U.S. team's medal chances in Greece, not necessarily the six best all-around gymnasts. That's where Schwikert could figure in the mix, as she routinely scores high in uneven bars and floor exercise.

She stepped out of bounds twice in the latter event on Sunday and scored only 9.1 on a day where high marks were hard to come by. But Rice said those errors wouldn't have been so costly had the judges given Schwikert credit for her starting values.

"She was hit a little hard by the judges ... but it didn't really matter, because the goal was to get through to training camp," Rice said. "She had some things go off (Sunday) but from where she was in nationals and two weeks ago, it was really good.

"Some of the girls are really stepping it up but she's stepping it up, too. But she needs to do even more, because everybody else is keeping it really tough."

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