"Our Olympic gymnastics committee has been very cooperative and is letting us take the eight top men to Montreal, where we'll train until the Games begin. That gives us some working room and a chance to settle on a final team of six."
When Schwenzfeier makes his cuts he must be sure that the team is not weak in any event. All six will compete in the six all-round events—floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, vaulting, parallel bars and horizontal bar—with the five highest scores counting toward the team total. Those who score high enough in any event advance to the individual finals.
Thirteen gymnasts qualified at Berkeley in May for the Penn State Trials, and their combined scores for the two tryouts determined their final standing. Thomas, a junior from Indiana State, won the initial event with 113.05 points and was second at Penn State, where he scored a 9.70 on the high bar and a 9.80 on the horse. His total of 113.00 put him in first place with a combined score of 226.05.
The leading scorer at Penn State was Young, whose 113.45 points placed him second overall with 225.80. Since graduating from Brigham Young, he has been at Penn State working on his master's degree in biomechanics. Young, a Mormon, is married and has a five-month-old daughter.
In third place was quiet, mustachioed Tom Beach, who, like Young, maintains a low profile and is taking guitar lessons from Conner.
Conner passed up all the big-name gymnastics colleges to enroll at Oklahoma and is in other ways agreeably unpretentious. While in New York for the American Cup he convinced his coach, John Burkel, that what they should do for dinner was to sit on a curb and eat sandwiches. "So we went to a deli, got sandwiches and sat on a curb in midtown and ate them," Burkel says. And when they spotted limousines waiting for theatergoers to emerge from Broadway shows, Conner won a 25� bet from Burkel by slipping into the back seat of one while an astonished chauffeur held the door.
Then there is Avener. "After Munich, who would have guessed all the others on our Olympic team would be gone in '76—that the only one back would be Marshall Avener?" says Avener himself, gymnastics' Muhammad Ali. A Penn Slate alumnus, he is now decorously teaching and coaching at his alma mater. "When I got back from Munich I was not so far gone as to be content with my disposition," he says. "So I went to the psych clinic, and my best friend is now my former therapist." Indeed, Avener even succeeded in controlling his temper and ego.
He also succeeded in peaking when he had to, earning his highest scores ever at the Trials (9.65 on the high bar and 56.80 for the optionals) as he leaped from seventh place to fifth just in time on the last night.
Rounding out the top eight are Gene Whelan, a Penn State senior; Southern Connecticut State junior Pete Kormann; and muscular Mike Carter, an LSU senior. Together they make up a team that does have talent, flair and charisma, and one that may well return with Olympic medals at long last.