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GYMNASTICS // Male gymnasts looking for respect

THE UNKNOWN GYMNASTS: While women's gymnastics receives considerable attention in the United States, men's gymnastics continues to play second fiddle.

Consider NBC's approach. The women's optionals will be captured in a live prime-time broadcast June 30, the men will be condensed to a one-hour taped version that afternoon.

"It's a touchy point," said John Roethlisberger, a four-time national champion. "Hopefully, we will get the attention when a little medal thing is hanging around my neck at the Olympics. Then maybe we can silence the critics or maybe get a little more respect."

CHOW TIME: Amy Chow may not be the nation's best gymnast, but she may be its most daring.

Chow has the reputation of having the most difficulty in her routines. Just consider the names of some of the 4-foot-10, 80-pound tumbler's more difficult tricks: a Yurchenko double twist (most do a Yurchenko half-twist) on the vault; a standing full-twist on the beam; a double-twisting, double-back dismount on the uneven bars.

"She's a package deal," said Diane Amos, one of Chow's coaches. "There's the quickness in her body and an air awareness. There's also the size of her body."

In addition to gymnastics, Chow is an award-winning pianist and maintains a 4.0 grade point average.

GYM-SIDE MANNER: It's difficult to determine what's more impressive: Chainey Umphrey's world-class high bar routine or his out-of-this-world work ethic.

Umphrey is doing the unthinkable by trying to make the Olympic team and get into medical school. In April, he placed fifth in the high bar competition at the World Gymnastics Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico, then took the Medical College Admission Test the next day at a San Juan college.

"I get up about six in the morning and I go to bed around midnight or one o'clock," said Umphrey, who competed as a collegian at UCLA and still works out with the Bruins.

"I'm approaching this as a 50-50 thing. I want to do the best I possibly can in both situations. It will be extremely intense, but I've always been able to mix school and gymnastics pretty well."

MOVING ON: The Olympics won't be the end for Kerri Strug and Amanda Borden. Both will make the transition to collegiate gymnastics. Strug will compete for UCLA, and Borden will join the University of Georgia team.

Strug and Borden, who won the recent U.S. Classic, deferred their enrollments to concentrate on making the Olympics.

ANONYMITY: Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes are enrolled in college, but have chosen the role of average co-ed instead of student-athlete. Miller attends the University of Oklahoma, and Dawes lives in a dorm at the University of Maryland.

Dawes, who tied for the bronze medal in the beam at the recent world championships, walks around the College Park, Md., campus in relative anonymity. She hangs out with her friends and seldom has to worry about autograph hounds.

"No, they don't know who I am," Dawes said. "I don't publicize it that I'm there."

LYNCH-PIN: Jair Lynch, 24, was the Untied States' youngest member in 1992 and missed winning a bronze medal on the horizontal bars by one-tenth of a point.

"In 1992, I had very little experience, and I just missed a medal," Lynch said. "That was enough incentive to stick around. Also, competing on U.S. soil is like a dream."

Lynch's resilience has been key. He was kept out of competition for nearly two years with a series of injuries _ ripped pectoral muscle, broken hand, torn rotator cuff _ but has persevered. He finished second in the all-around in the American Cup earlier this year.

Lair's success in the parallel bars, his favorite event, will hinge on a new dismount: a double front flip with a half twist.

Times researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

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