July 9, 2016 / 9:52 PM / 3 years ago

Kocian to diversify in pursuit of Olympic spot

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Madison Kocian is looking to prove she is more than a one trick pony on the uneven bars as she bids for a coveted Rio Games berth at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team trials on Sunday.

Jul 8, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Madison Kocian from Dallas, TX, during the vault in the women's gymnastics U.S. Olympic team trials at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting sixth after Friday’s opening night of competition, Kocian tied for first in the uneven bars with Ashton Locklear but will have to up her game for Sunday’s second and final round if she hopes to be included on the five-member squad for Rio.

Uneven bars is one of the U.S. team’s weaker events and the women’s national team program director Martha Karolyi has vowed to choose somebody for the team “who is particularly good on that event.”

Locklear has dealt with back injuries in recent years that have limited her focus to the uneven bars and the beam.

That leaves an opening for Kocian to show the selection committee that she can compete in all four events, which could give her an edge since she is prepared to act as a backup if any of her team mates in Rio get hurt.

“Having these extra events is probably helping my case to make that Olympic team,” said Kocian, speaking after the competition on Friday.

“That’s why I’ve been working really hard not just on bars and beam but also on the floor and vault to have that all around score in case Team USA needs it.

“After (U.S.) championships everyone thought I was a specialist but then I finished fifth overall. I think that helps my case for the selection committee.”

Kocian finished sixth on the beam on Friday, beating Locklear, who competed on just two apparatus and was 13th.

Kocian played down the rivalry with Locklear, saying she is trying to keep her focus on the beam and floor exercise.

“Some fans think we are such big competitors or that we hate each other but we definitely cheer on each other,” she said.

Karolyi, the U.S. women’s team program director, will ultimately have the final say.

She said on Thursday that “both of them are extremely good bar workers,” with Kocian choosing routines with a higher degree of difficulty than Locklear, who has better execution scores.

With Kocian showing she can deliver more than just a flawless bar routine, she may have a compelling case to end up in Rio next month.

“So they are pretty much neck-in-neck,” Karolyi said. “The decision maker will probably be who functions better under pressure and who gives something else to the team beside a bar routine.”

(This story fixes spelling of Kocian in slug and throughout text)

Editing by Steve Keating/Andrew Both

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