A week before the final Olympic women's gymnastic trials in Long Beach, Calif., Bud Marquette, coach of the Southern California Acro Team—or SCATs—whose best and most publicized member is Cathy Rigby, received an anonymous letter.
It read in part: "PLEASE quit cramming Rigby down our throats! To you, she is your baby, to us, she is just another gymnast—nothing more. You have built her up so——big, it is getting to be pretty ridiculous....
"We, as a group...are planning a trip to Long Beach, but for God's sake don't ruin our trip by making the competition a one-deal thing—namely, Rigby. Remember, there IS Metheny, Pierce and Chace. Where does that leave Rigby...? It would be too bad if she broke a leg, etc.—what would you do then...? Rigby is a smart aleck. She can't even speak to people anymore. You have made her that way.... You should teach your team (what team?)...respect for other people. They walk out on the floor and think they can take over any piece of equipment....
"As far as we are concerned, Metheny will be (and is) No. 1—but, with the politics involved, I imagine Rigby has already been nominated.
"We will be there—and watching. Maybe Rigby will break her big toe—oh, too bad."
—A group of FED-UPS
Last March, Cathy Rigby won the semi-final Olympic Trials at Terre Haute, Ind., beating Linda Metheny, a 25-year-old veteran of two Olympics. Last May, in the finals at Long Beach, she fell during her dismount in the compulsory bar exercises on the second day of competition. As usual, she stalled her straddle on the high bar longer than anybody else, but this time too long. Her toe slipped under the bar and she fell 7� feet headfirst. The spotter, who was on his knees instead of standing ready to catch, was able to put a hand on her and save her neck. Cathy had never fallen on her dismount before. Instead of 9.8 points she received 8.3 and lost her lead to Linda.
On the third day she made up points in each event, regaining the lead on the beam when Linda lost her balance. Then, in the floor exercises, the last event of the day, Cathy started out with an Arabian, a half-turned front flip. "When I landed, I heard something pop in my ankle," she says. "It didn't hurt right away, but I felt weak, I couldn't really push." When the event was over, she was still in first place by one-tenth of a point. She limped off the floor and was taken to a hospital where X rays revealed she had pulled the ligaments in her right ankle. She could not compete on the fourth and final day. Roxanne Pierce won the trials, Metheny was second, Kim Chace third. After deliberating, the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Committee decided that Rigby would be one of the six regular members on the Olympic team. One week after the trials, she was training again.
Bud Marquette likes to say about Cathy, "I never had anyone like her, and I guess I'll never find another one, either. She is the typical little American girl. A nice, clean kid. The American ideal. Something like Shirley Temple."
Cathy's palms are calloused from working out on the bars. She picks at the calluses and she bites her nails. "I can't wear rings," she says, "because my hands are so ugly."
"She sucked her thumb until she was 11," says her mother.