Bela Karolyi will keep a watchful eye at this week's U.S. Olympic gymnastics team trials.

Someone could be injured. Or someone could turn in an unexpected extraordinary effort.

But mostly, he already knows the strengths of the female athletes. What Karolyi really anticipates is the chance to see the Olympic hopefuls at his camp in rural Texas at the end of July, when most of the team will be selected.

There, it's all business.

"There is no McDonald's," Karolyi said. "There is no nightclub. There is no anything else around us but woods and a lot of deer, coyotes and squirrels."

The legendary coach helped Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter launch the city's festivities for the trials yesterday by unveiling a temporary street sign across from City Hall, renaming Broad Street this week as "The Road to Beijing."

The Olympic trials will begin Thursday at the Wachovia Center.

Karolyi, 66, has the most unofficial official role in constructing the U.S. women's Olympic team.

Technically, his job is national training center director for USA Gymnastics. But the team is decided at his camp in New Waverly, Texas.

His credentials as a coach are unmatched, having mentored some of the greats, including Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton and Dominique Moceanu.

And he has the ear of Martha Karolyi, his wife and national team coordinator.

"We've been working for 46 years together, and we'd be foolish not to use each other's thoughts and opinions," Karolyi said.

He made sure to emphasize that Martha has free rein in the decision-making. Plus, she works well with the coaching staff, a feat the fiery and sometimes controversial Bela "never could do before."

Karolyi agreed with the notion that Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin are the top two athletes. And he said Ivana Hong, Bridget Sloan, Shayla Worley and Alicia Sacramone had the most to gain this weekend.

"These are the ones we really need to watch, really scrutinize their performance and analyzing what they bring in," Karolyi said.

But picking a national team is more complicated than ever.

"You just cannot do the old tradition," he said, "which was so simple: to take the top six and say, 'This is my team - all-arounders.'

"Now you can take one or two all-arounders, then four other ones who can be only three-event gymnasts or two-event gymnasts."

That's what will make the next month a constant evaluation, the final coming in Karolyi's backyard: Middle of Nowhere, Texas.

"[The girls] can focus, which is the most important thing for the training," he said. "And they really do."

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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