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Atler Falters at Gymnastics Trials

August 21, 2000

BOSTON (AP) _ The smile that usually lights up Vanessa Atler’s face was nowhere in sight.

This was the biggest meet of her life, and she couldn’t get it together no matter how hard she tried. While everyone around her was nailing routines at the Olympic gymnastics trials, she faltered.

When she sprang forward on the landing after her balance beam routine, she looked up to the roof as if to say, ``What’s going on?″ But the worst part was, she knew.

``I think in the back of my mind, I wanted to go home,″ Atler said Sunday night after being left off the Olympic team. ``It just wasn’t there and I think God knew it.″

Atler was in fourth place after last month’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships. But she struggled throughout the trials and finished sixth overall when the weighted scores were combined.

Her inconsistencies made her too big of a risk for Sydney, and a selection committee headed by Bela Karolyi chose Dominique Dawes over Atler. Dawes, a member of the Magnificent Seven, finished seventh overall.

``I would say Vanessa is the closest to my heart. She has a unique talent, but talent alone is not enough,″ Karolyi said. ``Unfortunately, in two back-to-back competitions, Vanessa couldn’t prove capable of representing the country with the expectations we needed.″

Alyssa Beckerman, who finished eighth, was chosen as the alternate over Atler. Karolyi said the United States might still choose another alternate, but Atler sounded like she wouldn’t want to take the spot.

``I don’t think it’s fair to everybody else,″ she said. ``I don’t think I was as prepared.″

Still, her exclusion was stunning. As the 1996 junior champion and with a bubbly personality, she was expected to be the next American darling. Fans flocked to her web page, and she did a commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

When the big meets rolled around, she had trouble living up to the hype. A fall off the uneven bars forced her to share the national title in 1997, and falls the next two years put her second to Kristen Maloney.

Though Karolyi made no secret she was one of his favorites, she couldn’t hold it together when it counted most. She began Sunday night by botching a handstand on the uneven bars, forcing her to improvise.

Her vaults, normally her strongest events, weren’t strong. She lurched forward on her beam landing, and then stepped out of her last tumbling pass on the floor exercise.

Her highest score Sunday was a 9.437, dropping her to 10th place for the night.

``I wasn’t having fun,″ she said. ``When my name wasn’t called, I almost had a sense of relief because deep down, I knew I shouldn’t be going. I knew I wasn’t ready.

``It’s just not my day. Not my time.″

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