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Bulldogs Head To Gymnastics Finals

April 17, 1998

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Kim Arnold and Karin Lichey, best friends, roommates and the nation’s top two collegiate gymnasts, were nearly inseparable Thursday in the all-around at the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships.

Arnold, the defending all-around titlist, and Lichey helped Georgia advance to Friday’s team finals by winning the preliminary afternoon session with a total of 197.825. The Gym Dogs had the highest scores on vault, bars, beam and floor.

``We went for everything and put our top lineup in,″ Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan said. ``We didn’t just want to qualify, we wanted to win the session.″

Alabama, which failed to make last year’s final six, finished second at 196.475 and Arizona State, second to national champion UCLA last year, narrowly qualified third with 195.450.

Those three teams, along with the top three from Thursday evening’s session, advance to Friday’s finals. Getting shut out in the day session were Michigan, just .25 points behind Arizona State, North Carolina State and Brigham Young.

Competing at night were UCLA, Florida, Louisiana State, Penn State, Utah and Washington.

The all-around champion will be crowned Thursday night, but Arnold appeared to have clinched her second straight title.

If no one tops her score of 39.725, the senior from Portland, Ore., will be the first repeat champion since Kentucky’s Jenny Hansen won three straight all-around titles from 1993-95.

``It feels good, but nothing’s going to feel better than if the team wins,″ said Arnold, who wasn’t around for Georgia’s last NCAA title in 1993.

Arnold edged Lichey by .25 points. Lichey scored 39.700 and Alabama’s Gwen Spidle was third at 39.375.

The all-around came down to Georgia’s final rotation on floor exercise, Arnold’s best event. She trailed Lichey, ranked second nationally on floor, by .25 after three rotations.

Lichey, a junior from Cincinnati, went first and earned a 9.925. Arnold followed with a powerful, energetic routine to ``Puttin’ on the Ritz″ for a 9.975.

``I didn’t even see her floor score before I started. I knew we were both scoring 9.9s pretty much on everything,″ Arnold said. ``My two best events are beam and floor. Her two best are vault and bars. We push each other.″

No matter how fierce the competition between them, they still leave the gym and go back to the same house at the end of the day.

``What we do in the gym never carries over to when we come home. The most important thing is our friendship,″ Arnold said.

Lichey also didn’t know how close the scores were. The duo tied with identical 9.95s on vault and 9.9s on beam. Lichey beat Arnold on bars _ 9.925 to 9.9 before Arnold came back on floor.

``She’s just had a wonderful career,″ Lichey said. ``I’m so proud. If anybody beat me, of course, I’d want Kim to.″

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