U.S. Women Gym Meet's Top Stars

By Deane McGowen

New York Times, March 13, 1977   Lyudmila Turischeva was not there to lend her quiet charm to the competition, nor was the magnetic Olga Korbut.  Nellie Kim, the Soviet Union's rising star, was also among the missing, as was the icy Nadia Comaneci of Rumania, the multimedalist at the Olympic Games in Montreal.

But Donna Turnbow and Kathy Johnson of the United States captured the fancy of the 14,934 fans with their grace and vitality, and saucy Karen Kelsall of Canada added a note of charming freshness with her performance.  They were among the 10 young women competing at Madison Square Garden for honors in the second annual American Cup, a two-day international gymnastics meet that will end today.

The 90-pound Miss Turnbow, a 15-year-old sophomore at Mayfair High School in Bellflower, Calif., finished an overall first in the women's four events with a point total of 37.90.  Her best individual effort came in the floor exercise, in which she scored 9.55 out of a possible 10 points.  She said of her performance, "It was one of my better meets."

Miss Johnson, the runner-up to her teammate with 37.85 points, was not as pleased with her efforts.  "I can do a lot better and I will [today]," she said.  "I fell off the balance beam, and that hurt me."  But she gave a sparkling performance in the floor exercise to score the best mark, 9.75.

Miss Kelsall, a 14-year-old junior-high school sophomore in Eugene, Ore., was perky on the balance beam.  Her movements were reminiscent of Miss Korbut's and her performance was a good 9.40, just behind Miss Turnbow's 9.45.

The 13 men in the field presented an even stronger contingent of international stars, including Mitsuo Tsukahara and Toshiomi Nishikii of Japan, Bart Conner and Kurt Thomas of the United States and Eberhard Gienger of West Germany, a former world champion on the horizontal bar.

Tsukahara, who has collected enough medals in five Olympic Games to set up his own gold and silver reserves, won the overall prize yesterday with 56.60 points for six events.  The 29-year-old Tsukahara, a businessman for a Japanese music company, tied his own meet record score of 9.50 out of a possible 10 in the parallel bars.

Tsukahara is best remembered for his incredible performance at Montreal.  He took the gold medal there on the horizontal bar, competing with a broken leg.  It was his performance that brought Japan the team victory over the Soviet squad.

Yesterday, Tsukahara set a meet record in the vaulting of 9.55, but it lasted only until his 24-year-old teammate, Nishikii, went to work.  Nishikii scored a meet high of 9.65 with a precise, rapid performance.

Nishikii, who also works for the same music company as Tsukahara, captured the imagination of the fans with his routine in the floor exercise.  His backward double somersault drew gasps of surprise, and the judges awarded the 24-year-old former intercollegiate champion of Japan a 9.55 for his dazzling effort.

Nishikii finished second in the overall competition with a score of 56.35.  The Americans, Conner and Thomas, followed with totals of 55.65 and 55.40, respectively.  Conner, an 18-year-old University of Oklahoma freshman who won this meet last year, scored 9.10 on the side horse and excelled on the rings with 9.30.

Thomas, a 21-year-old junior at Indiana State, had the second-best performance on the horizontal bar, a 9.50 to tie with Henri Boerio of France.  Gienger placed fifth with 55.35, and Robert Bretscher of Switzerland gained the final spot with 55.15.

The six events for the men and the four for the women, in addition to determining the overall champion, served as qualification for the competition in individual events today, when 13 finalists will go through their grueling routines again, starting from scratch.

The 23 competitors yesterday represented Canada, France, West Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland and the United States.  Teams from the Soviet Union, Poland, and Czechoslovakia had accepted invitations but failed to appear.  Rumania's strong squad had to withdraw because of the earthquake that devastated parts of the country on March 4.

This page was created on October 8, 2004.
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