If they had talked, Omeliantchik, a 4'1" 78-pound bundle of effervescent energy—call her the Cheerful Cricket—could have told Mar about the poetry she writes or some of the jokes she loves to play on her teammates. And the American would have told her Soviet counterpart about the cartoons she draws well, mostly of Garfield, one of her favorite TV characters. She also likes The Cosby Show and Dynasty, "when she can find the time to watch TV," said her mother, Rose, who came to the United States from Canton, China in 1950. Sabrina's father, Richard, immigrated to the U.S. from China several months later. Her parents, who knew each other in China, met again in California and were married in 1956. The Mars (the name means horse in Chinese) now own a grocery wholesale business and raise bean sprouts for commercial use in Los Angeles.
Sabrina—her name comes from the lead in the movie Sabrina, played by Audrey Hepburn, whom her mother loves—discovered gymnastics through ballet, which she studied for eight years. "She did tumbling in ballet class, and her teacher said she was so agile we should put her in a gym," says Rose Mar. "I didn't even know what a gym was. But I said, 'Good.' She is hyper, always active. I told her, 'You go to the gym and stop doing backflips on my king-size bed. You are ruining the mattress.' Can you believe that she'd come home and say that going to the gym was like going to Disneyland?"
Four years ago. Mar was invited to train at SCATS, the giant gymnastic club run by Peters in Huntington Beach. Calif. That's a 28-mile drive each way from their home in Monterey Park. For the past two years, Sabrina has been the national No. 2 junior behind Tracy Ca-lore, who was a teammate in Montreal. Then in June she surprised everyone, including herself, by winning the all-around title at the seniors national championship in Jacksonville.
"Her potential is unlimited," says Mary Wright, her coach along with Steve Gerlach. "She can only improve. For many years she had a problem. She lacked confidence. This is the first year that Sabrina can perform when she competes. It is not normal for her to be an exhibitionist, and that is what it takes."
Her mother blames that on her Chinese cultural background. "I don't think it was a lack of confidence," said Mrs. Mar. "It was modesty. It's our culture. Sabrina is not the type to go out and say, 'Hey, look at me.' She's a Chinese girl. When you are raised 15 years being taught to be humble, it's hard to change. Now she has to be a showboat. She's getting better at it."
Smiling widely, although at times she was gritting her teeth in pain, Sabrina was the first gymnast up on the four-inch-wide beam on Saturday night. It was a tough place to start cold, and she turned in a 9.35 that was slightly underscored. On the floor, to the theme from Rocky, she fired up the crowd with a sparkling 9.65 performance. After a 9.6 on the vault, she was close to tears from the pain. "But you have to block it out," she said. With amazing grit, she closed with a 9.75 on the uneven bars.
And then she swallowed the giant orange pill and said, "Wow, I really hurt bad." But she smiled. Even with the pain, it's still Disneyland to Sabrina.