U.S. High School Gymnast Tops World Stars

By Robin Herman

New York Times, March 29, 1976   Bart Conner, an Illinois high school student who did not expect to best some of the world's best gymnasts, did just that yesterday.  He won the American Cup international gymnastics competition at Madison Square Garden.

Conner celebrated his 18th birthday by defeating Mitsuo Tsukahara of Japan, whom he calls "my idol," Dan Grecu of Rumania, the world champion on the rings, and Vladimir Markelov, an 18-year-old wonder from the Soviet Union who was competing against world-class competition for the first time.

Grecu and Markelov tied for second place with 56.35 points of a possible 60.  Conner registered 56.45 points.  The men's competition was decided by the final event, the high bar.  Conner coolly won a rating of 9.60 in that event, second to Tsukahara who had a 9.65.  The 27-year-old Japanese gymnast attempted a particularly difficult routine and dismount on his favorite apparatus.

Nadia Comaneci, whom people here were calling "The Bionic Woman" because of the precision of her movements, won all four of her events and captured the women's competition.  The 14-year-old Rumanian scored 39.75 points of a possible 40 points, improving her qualifying performance Saturday by 35 hundredths of a point.  She ended the women's portion of the program with a perfect 10-point performance in the floor exercise, completing a double back somersault as her first move.  The daring trick was not even attempted by women gymnasts until last year.

Kathy Howard, a 17-year-old gymnast from Oklahoma City, turned in a strong, energetic performance that placed her second to Miss Comaneci with 38.10 points.  Miss Howard had been called to this meet at the last moment when Ann Carr sprained her ankle in practice and withdrew from the competition.

"I was in bed Thursday night when my coach called," said Miss Howard.  "It was about 11:30.  I left on a plane at 4:30 in the morning and worked out Friday.  I hadn't worked out all this week."

Conner and Miss Howard were beaming after the competition while Miss Comaneci appeared subdued.  Following her perfect floor exercise, Grecu escorted her back to the mat to receive the applause of the 12,385 spectators, but she smiled only once.

"She will learn to smile," said a Rumanian coach, Mircea Baldulescu, "but first she must do the gymnastics."  Ranked first in the world, Miss Comaneci expects to win a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics.  She thought her performance yesterday was of Olympic caliber.  She competed with a taped right elbow, which she injured while vaulting yesterday, and with a severely blistered hand.

At the Olympics, she said, she expects her greatest rival to be a girl friend, 15-year-old Teodora Ungureanu of Rumania.  Miss Comaneci did not mention the Soviet Union's best-known gymnasts, Olga Korbut and Ludmila Turischeva.  The USSR sent tiny, 14-year-old Elena Davydova to this competition and although hampered only by a cough, she finished third.

Conner, who is from Morton Grove, Ill., north of Chicago, competed in the Pan American Games last fall.

"I just wanted to make the top six here and be on the same floor and compete with the best gymnasts in the world," he said.  "Tsukahara -- he's one of the greatest gymnasts ever.  But it's kind of a dormant period now for most gymnasts.  They're not really conditioning because they're planning to peak for the Olympics.

"I was nervous yesterday, and today it was kind of the icing on the cake.  I was game for anything."

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