Friday, July 22, 2005


VIRGINIA BEACH — As president of Excalibur Gymnastics, Jim Walker spends his days watching high-level gymnasts leap, flip and tumble in a dizzying gravitational experience.

This weekend, the rest of the area can join him.

For the second time in four years, Virginia Beach will host the U.S. Classic, a national competition that is the last chance for gymnasts to qualify for the Visa National Championships, which determine the team that represents the country in international competitions. The U.S. Classic, sandwiched around two days of pre-elite competitions, begins Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Virginia Beach Pavilion.

“It’s a nice tune-up,” said Walker, whose 7-year-old facility off Newtown Road trains 700 gymnasts a week. “It’s the first meet of the year that nearly everyone in the country will attend. You can see the quality.”

Maybe even recognize a few names. Dominique Moceanu , 1996 Olympic gold medalist, was scheduled to compete but withdrew with an Achilles’ injury earlier in the week. She will, however, still attend the event.

Making up for her lost star power are Chellsie Memmel, the 2003 world uneven bars co-champion; 2004 U.S. junior champion Nastia Liukin; and Alicia Sacramone, a double medalist at February’s American Cup.

Three other national team members will join four strong locals, all of whom train under Walker and his wife, Dena, at Excalibur. The locals — Marcia Newby and Casey Overton in the senior division; Morgan Evans and Randy Stageberg in the junior division — all have current or former national team experience.

Evans, 14, has her sights set on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and promises not to be star-gazing on Saturday. She’s already qualified for the national championships, which are Aug. 10-13 in Indianapolis.

“It feels just like a regular meet,” Evans said.

Newby, who will be a Kempsville senior in the fall, says the small stuff is what counts in gymnastics, and that’s what she wants to focus on this weekend. She finished ninth in the 2003 national championships and is not yet qualified for this year’s version, although her coaches have submitted a petition to USA Gymnastics in light of recurring injuries.

A broken toe kept her out of last year’s nationals, perils Overton and Stageberg are now experiencing.

Overton, 17 and a member of the 2003 and 2004 national teams, is fighting a right shoulder injury and will only compete on the balance beam. Stageberg, 14, was all ready for the meet two weeks ago until she began experiencing back pain. Tests indicated that she had a vertebra out of line, so she will be a meet-time decision. She is already qualified for the championships. 

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