Gymnastics Champion Eliminated

By Gerald Eskenazi

New York Times, March 12, 1978    Thousands of people paid up to $12 a seat and $2 for a program and still did not know who the competitors were as the American Cup gymnastics tournament began a two-day run yesterday.

If the 7,000 fans at Madison Square Garden were disappointed at not knowing who was who during the jumbled preliminary events, consider how sadly Donna Turnbow felt.

The 16-year-old United States champion hadn't been in a major event since last October.  That was when she tied Nadia Comaneci of Rumania in a meet at the Superdome in New Orleans, but broke her right ankle immediately afterward when she practiced the dangerous Tsukahara, a cartwheel onto the vault, followed by a dismounting somersault.

Miss Turnbow was intense and nervous in the Garden, where she finished second in last year's American Cup to Kathy Johnson.  She fell almost immediately after leaping onto the balance beam and then had to poise herself moments later as she nearly went off again.

Her scores were down and she finished too low to be among the eight women to qualify for today's finale.

Miss Johnson finished second overall behind the pretournament favorite, Natasha Tereschenko of the Soviet Union.  No one, however, did as well as Kurt Thomas of the United States.  He won or tied for first, in five of the six men's events.  Another American, Bart Connor, was third.

These were not the world's best gymnasts in action.  Many fell repeatedly, tripped or missed handholds.  Miss Comaneci, who won the first cup in 1976, when it was created as a Bicentennial event, was home perfecting new routines for the world championships next October in France.

"She probably doesn't want anyone to see what she's working on till it's perfect," explained a competitor yesterday.

The fans had to guess whom they were watching.  There were no numbers on the athletes' backs, no announcements of their names when they competed, and no one seemed to know which country was wearing what colors.

Refund Is Asked

The Garden blamed the promoter, Rick Appleman, and the United States Gymnastics Federation.

Appleman explained that since the draw was held as late as Friday night, "the problem of getting numbers sewn on was just awful."  But the Garden's scoreboard was no help, either.  Someone was doing a floor exercise while someone else was slamming into the parallel bars and a third competitor was running down the alley and leaping onto the vault.

That problem will not continue today because only eight women and eight men will be in the program.  There were 42 yesterday.

"There's no excuse for this," said Dean Stewart of Champaign, Ill.  "You've got one of the world's best gymnasts in Tsukahara in action and no one knows who he is."

"I paid $12 for this seat," added Ilgonis Zarins of New York, "and I'm looking in the dark.  If Madison Square Garden can afford to put up an electronic scoreboard, they can afford to put up numbers."

This page was created on October 25, 2003.
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