SEOUL — Mistakes and protests dropped the U.S. women's gymnastics team out of a close battle for the bronze and into sole possession of fourth place after compulsories at the Olympics today.
It took East and West 12 years to re-establish Olympic ties, but it took just 90 seconds to strain relations once again when an East German official called a costly violation on the American team.
The U.S. team, very much in contention for a bronze medal, was penalized this evening for violating a rarely enforced rule as America faced the Eastern Bloc countries in the Olympics for the first time since 1976.
The resulting half-point deduction from the team's compulsory score left the United States in fourth place with 194.450 points and made its bid to catch third-place East Germany, with 195.425 points, significantly tougher.
The Soviet Union holds a precarious lead over world champion Romania in the battle for the gold medal that will be awarded following Wednesday night's optionals.
U.S. Charges Politics
The Americans do not argue that they may have broken the rule--gymnastics' version of too many players on the field--but contend the penalty was prompted more by politics than rule book reverance.
Specifically, the technical committee that oversees the competition penalized the U.S. team because alternate Rhonda Faehn remained on the uneven bars podium while teammate Kelly Garrison-Steves performed her 90-second compulsory routine. The rule states that once a competitor begins a routine, no one else is allowed on the podium.
Faehn retrieved the springboard used by Garrison-Steves to mount the bars, but instead of leaving the podium, she remained to watch the routine.
The fact that foul was called by Ellen Berger, an East German and president of the technical committee, only added fuel to the Americans' displeasure.
"The purpose was to put pressure on the judges," said Bela Karolyi, one of the American coaches and former national coach of Romania who defected to the United States in 1981.
Earlier, Melissa Marlowe's fall off the balance beam cost the United States dearly.
The United States suffered another setback today when a five-member protest commission of the International Amateur Boxing Assn. voted 3 to 2 to reject the appeal of American boxer Anthony Hembrick, who was eliminated when he arrived late for his bout with South Korean Ha Jong Ho.