Olympic Trials, often deemed tougher competition than the Olympics themselves, are typically filled with surprises and nail-biting. The drama for the 1996 U.S. women’s gymnastics team race occurred, for the most part, before trials began.
It came down to two days at Boston’s Fleet Center, three weeks before the Opening Ceremony. There, the top seven finishers in all-around competition were in line to make up the Olympic team.
It didn’t turn out to be that simple.
For one, the previous two national champions — Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu — came out of the U.S. Championships three weeks earlier with injuries (wrist tendinitis, tibia fracture). They chose to petition for spots on the Olympic team rather than attempt to compete while hurt at trials.
The process: their scores from nationals would be used. It was highly unlikely that five other gymnasts would better Miller and Moceanu, who placed first and third, respectively, at nationals. The duo watched trials inside the Fleet Center. USA Gymnastics reportedly confirmed they mathematically clinched spots after the first day of competition.
Back then, the two-day competition included compulsories, which counted for 60 percent of a final score, and optionals, which counted 40 percent.
Going into optionals, the standings looked like this:
Miller — 47.220 (from nationals)
Moceanu — 47.1 (from nationals)
Jaycie Phelps — 46.887
Dominique Dawes — 46.768
Kerri Strug — 46.588
Amy Chow — 46.377
Amanda Borden — 45.913
Beth Arnold — 45.568
Theresa Kulikowski — 45.433
The 14-woman field featured nine with world championships experience, plus future Olympians in Kristen Maloney (2000) and Mohini Bhardwaj (2004). The way compulsories shook out was hardly a surprise. Phelps was second at nationals, while Dawes, Strug and Borden also placed top six three weeks earlier.
Chow was a unique case. She was sixth in compulsories at nationals, then withdrew before optionals with back spasms.
At trials, on her last routine, she awkwardly fell off the balance beam, smacking her face on the apparatus. Chow had either 10 seconds or 30 seconds to remount the beam, depending on which report you believe. She did it within 10 seconds and finished the routine to remain, comfortably, in the top five.
Two of the top challengers — Kristy Powell and Theresa Kulikowski — fell in compulsories. They shared a coach — Tom Forster, who now oversees the U.S. women’s national team.
The last Olympic spot went to Amanda Borden, who missed the 1992 Olympic team. Borden would be named captain of the Magnificent Seven. The final Olympic Trials standings:
Shannon Miller — 78.380 (from nationals)
Dominique Moceanu — 78.220 (from nationals)
Dominique Dawes — 78.157
Kerri Strug — 78.108
Jaycie Phelps — 77.736
Amy Chow — 77.267
Amanda Borden — 77.162
Theresa Kulikowski — 76.491
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