The Older New Guard

Flashy Elise Ray, 18, leads a U.S. women's gymnastics team that is older yet younger

"The team has a leader, and that's Elise Ray." With those words, the voluble Bela Karolyi, national women's team coordinator and the man behind the Magnificent Seven gold-medal winners of the 1996 Olympic Games, unofficially crowned America's next darling of the mats. It was the verbal equivalent of one of his trademark bear hugs. "I'm not afraid of taking on that role," Ray said last week after earning her ticket to Sydney by accumulating the highest score in four qualifying meets.

Don't expect a waiflike Nadia Comaneci, or a baby-faced Dominique Moceanu. At 18, Ray is the new face-and body-of women's...

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