A Young Gymnast's Hopes are Dashed

By James Tuite

New York Times, March 7, 1982    Four days ago, Gina Stallone was working out in a gymnasium in Allentown, Pa., trying to develop her Tsukahara vault technique in preparation for a gymnastics meet next week in Atlantic City.

Then came the phone call.  Kathy Johnson, a star of the United States team, was ill with a virus.  Could Miss Stallone get to New York as a replacement in the American Cup championships at Madison Square Garden?

"I was so excited," said the 16-year-old Miss Stallone, who abandoned her Tsukahara for a full twist onto the horse.  "I never thought I'd be here."

"She was so excited," said her brother, Joe, 24 years old, "that she was jumping up and down squealing: 'Guess where I'm going? American Cup!' "

She said she had slept all the way to New York on the bus from Allentown and had rushed off to the Garden for a workout.  "I was so tired," she said, "I just couldn't stay awake."

Miss Stallone was among 40 athletes from 13 nations taking part in the Garden competition.  The top eight men and eight women from yesterday's session will return today for the all-around championships.

But Miss Stallone will not be among them, even though she finished fourth.  Neither will Jim Hartung, last year's national champion, who placed third.  Only two gymnasts from the host country are allowed to compete in the final, and since there were three men and three women on the United States teams, Hartung and Miss Stallone were excluded under that rule.

Peter Vidmar, the 1980 national champion, and Bart Conner, the 1979 champion, led the men's advance.  Vidmar scored 58 points and Conner 57.95; Hartung was third with 57.65.

Behind them were Kiyoshi Goto of Japan, 57.60; Shinji Morisue of Japan, 57.50; Zou Limin of China, 57.35; and Aleksandr Pogorelov, a Russian who surpassed the vault record with 9.80 on his way to 57.35.

Among the women, Julianne McNamara, the 1980 national champion, was first with 38.55 points, followed by an unheralded Bulgarian, Zoya Grancharova, with 38.25.  Tracee Talavera, the 1981 national champion, was third with 37.95 and Miss Stallone was fourth with 37.90.

Unlike her champion teammates, Miss Stallone has not had the advantage of their live-in training and discipline at the National Academy of Artistic Gymnastics in Eugene, Ore.  Instead, she lives with her parents in Wyomissing, Pa., and is driven 70 miles each day to and from the gym in Allentown.

Her father, Phil, who works at General Electric, took on a second job to help Miss Stallone's career.  Her mother, Mary, also did work other than her regular restaurant job as a cook.

"What they've done has inspired me to work harder," she said.  "But then, you have to work harder if you want to stay on top."

The top is the Olympics, and Miss Stallone has put nearly everything else out of her mind.  "I get 80's and C's in school," she said, "but I know I'd do better if I was out of gymnastics."

Fun for her, after going to school each day and then spending six hours in the gym, is a Saturday night visit to a shopping mall to "hang out" and window-shop for clothes with her friends.

"She has great dedication, determination," said Joe Stallone, now a coach.  "She doesn't let anything get to her head.  And because she started at 3, fear was never in her way."

The American men did not realize that only two of three could advance to the final.  Conner had planned some innovations, knowing that at worst he would finish among the eight qualifiers.  "Then I got scared," he said.

Vidmar said he also was nervous about introducing her movements, such as a full twisting double back.  "I was debating right up to the last moment whether I should do it," he said.  "It didn't feel that good today but I went for it.  I want to start using it regularly and I don't want to cop out yet."

All of yesterday's points will be erased as the 16 young athletes go into today's championship round.


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