Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gymnasts Bring Rhythm to Prime Osborn

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gymnasts Bring Rhythm to Prime Osborn

Article excerpt

The Four Continents Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships has brought almost 300 gymnasts from more than 20 countries to the Prime Osborn Convention Center for four days of competition beginning today.

The Four Continents, which takes place every two years, hasn't been to the United States since 1984, when it was held in Indianapolis. The competition made the switch to odd-numbered years in 1991 so it would not be contested in Olympic years.

Making the competition more important for each gymnast is the fact that a berth in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, could be on the line.

"A competition like this is very important," said Jan Exner, the rhythmic program director for USA Gymnastics. "It gives them [the gymnasts] a big opportunity."

Exner said the event, which she rates third on the rhythmic landscape behind the Olympics and the World Championships, gives gymnasts a gauge for their performance under the pressure of international competition.

Two local athletes will subject themselves to that pressure in front of the home crowd for the first time. Jessica Howard and Lindsay Powell, coached by Efrossina Anguelova of International Rhythmic Gymnastics at the Riverside YMCA, give the area a pair of legitimate contenders for Sydney.

"It's great," Howard said. "Lots of friends and family get to come and watch us. This is very big."

Howard, 15, makes her debut in the Four Continents this year, but she is no stranger to success. She has 12 top-five finishes in 13 events over the past 2 1/2 years, including a first-place all-around at the 1998 Junior PanAmerican Championships in Houston.

"I'm a little bit nervous, but I'll get over it," said the 5-foot-4 1/2, 90-pound Howard, ranked second among senior rhythmic gymnasts in the United States. "There's people in here that have been to the Olympics, so it's going to be difficult."

Powell, 14, is making her second appearance in the Four Continents. …

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