U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials

The U.S. chooses its gymnastics squads for the 2008 Beijing Games. Shannon Miller, the most decorated gymnast in American history, will be there watching, and she joins us for a preview.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

They're tumbling and vaulting in Philadelphia, as the United States chooses its men's and women's gymnastics squads for the 2008 Beijing Games. Shannon Miller, the most decorated gymnast in American history, will be there doing in-house commentary for USA Gymnastics. But she's showing up a little late. She and the rest of her so-called Magnificent Seven, the '96 gold-medal-winning women's team, had to be in Chicago last night to be inducted into the U.S. Olympics Hall of Fame. Shannon Miller gave us a little preview of the trials before she attended that ceremony.

(Soundbite of reverse playback)

PESCA: Tell us about what's going on. Who are the big women to watch for making the U.S. team?

Ms. SHANNON MILLER (Gymnast, Olympic Gold Medalist, 1996 Team USA): Well, there's a lot of big names out there. Certainly Shawn Johnson is the number one to watch. She is number one in the U.S. and in the world right now, so she's got the bull's eye on her back this weekend, headed closely up by Nastia Liukin, who is also a multiple world medalist.

PESCA: Now, this is crazy, because whenever we watch the Olympics, everyone has always triumphed over adversity. And you're an Olympic athlete, you know it is hard. But Shawn Johnson, she's from - am I right? She's from Iowa? There's flooding going on in her home?

Ms. MILLER: Yes. Shawn is from West De Moines, Iowa, and she was hit hard. Her gym was hit hard. They've got about two feet of water in the gym. They had, you know, fish floating through their gym. It's drying out. A bunch of people came out to support and help dry the gym out and get it back in gear so that when she comes home from all the trials she can keep training.

PESCA: And so how many spots - I know in the team events, that how many gymnasts make it for the overall team?

Ms. MILLER: They have six gymnasts who actually make the Olympic team. Then they will choose two alternates that will go over to Beijing and train in case someone gets injured or ill. And then one person will stay home and train in the U.S.

PESCA: You're a team, so you're rooting for each other. But this week, they're not rooting against each other. You want to do as best you can, but you know, the people who will be your teammate in Beijing, they're your rivals now. How do you deal with that psychologically?

Ms. MILLER: You know, it's very difficult, and I think gymnastics, as much as any sport, but maybe more than some, it's very difficult to have that line of separation between, OK, I'm competing for the team today and tomorrow I'm competing for myself. But I guess what I found, and what most of the top athletes find, is that if you will go out, and you give a 100 percent, and you try and nail your routine every single time and get the highest score, then it doesn't matter if you're competing for the team or you're competing individually. You're doing the very best that you can, and that's going to be the best for you individually and as a team.

PESCA: So we haven't talked about the men's side of thing. Let's do that now. Paul Hamm broke his hand. everyone's talking about that. It seems like a lot of the men have injuries to deal with.

Ms. MILLER: There's a lot of injuries going on in the men's side, which is a bit unusual. Justin Spring kind of started out last year, at Nationals he blew out his ACL. David Sender, who was the top man - top male, who just rolled his ankle last night at a practice, you know, just doing a jump-up to the high bar.

PESCA: I think the twin Hamm brothers are the ones the Americans most know from their participation in 2004. But if Paul's hand is broken, can he still make the team? Would he have to get a special waiver from the coach if he can't compete?

Ms. MILLER: Well, Paul has already petitioned directly to the team. And there is a process by which athletes can petition directly on to the Olympics team. That committee, the selection committee, will be meeting about that this weekend. I fully expect that his petition will be approved. He'll be placed on the team.

Paul is the type of guy that - he's been to the Olympics a couple of times. He's got a gold medal in the all-around. He doesn't want to go to the Olympics just so he can, you know, get in the uniform. He wants to go and help the team win a gold medal. So he's not going to take a spot if he's not prepared.

At the same time, if you are one of the other guys trying to make the team, you're hoping that Paul Hamm makes the team, because - it's very complicated how it works, that Paul's such a strong all-round athlete that he'll compete all six events, which opens up a slot, you know, in the fifth or sixth position for another man to be on the team.

PESCA: I got it. He takes - you don't - instead of having two guys, one does three and the other does three, he'll do all six, and so it opens a slot.

Ms. MILLER: Exactly. Exactly. You got it.

PESCA: And you know, viewers might be a little flummoxed because we all remember Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10s across the board. But that whole 10-point system, that has changed, has it not?

Ms. MILLER: It has. The 10-point system is gone. So if you're a spectator and you're expecting to see the perfect 10 at this Olympics, then you're going to be sadly disappointed. But right now, we have a system in place that is supposed to be more fair. You know, that's what we're always reaching for.

I'm not sure if everyone's excited about it, simply because some of the artistry in gymnastics has been lost. But what you'll see at the Olympics is, you know, 15.6, 16.2. And you know, for those that only watch gymnastics every four years, if you see anything between - you know, anything 16.4 and above, then that's a great score. That is a, you know, one of those gold-medal type scores.

PESCA: Sixteen-point-four?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Is that what you said?

Ms. MILLER: Approximately.

PESCA: Oh, wow. So is...

Ms. MILLER: It gets very difficult. There's a score for difficulty and there's a score for execution, and they'll add those together.

PESCA: Was there a debate? I mean, just that the 10s are so iconic and it's a part of the language, and you know, even, like, on a scale of one to 10, we all say that. Do they - were people reluctant to lose the 10s scoring system?

Ms. MILLER: Oh, absolutely. So many people were reluctant. And it's not really something that a lot of us vote in. This was something that came down from the international federation. It's something that's been in the works, and I don't think that anyone ever thought it would actually happen. And now that it has, I think it's one of those trial periods. Let's see how this works, and let's see if we can work bugs out. And you never know what's going to happen in the future.

PESCA: Just a couple of quick ones. What is the one really annoying song that every gymnast is choosing for their floor exercises that everyone is sick of by now?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MILLER: Oh, my! On the elite level, I'm not really sure. On the lower levels, it's whatever Disney movie is recently out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: And finally, have you seen and can you give me a review of "Gymkata," the 1985 movie which combines gymnastics and ninja in a deadly competition?

Ms. MILLER: Oh, yes, the star, Kurt Thomas.

PESCA: Correct.

Ms. MILLER: Yes, and Kurt was one of those that was going to be in the 1980 Olympics and that was really his year when it got boycotted. But yeah, "Gymkata" is something that we bring up often. We usually bring it up at the same time we bring up "American Anthem."

PESCA: Yeah. That was the sexy one.

Ms. MILLER: With Mitch Gaylord, so good times, very good times for gymnastics.

PESCA: Excellent. Shannon Miller, America's most decorated gymnast. Thanks very much, Shannon.

Ms. MILLER: Thank you.

PESCA: And "Gymkata," it's Shannon Miller approved.

(Soundbite of movie trailer "Gymkata")

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of martial arts combat)

Unidentified Announcer: When gymnastics and karate are fused, the combustion becomes an explosion, and a new kind of martial arts superhero is born.

(Soundbite of bang)

Unidentified Announcer: "Gymkata."

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