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SPORTS EXTRA: SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Gymnastics

With Russians, Romanians and Chinese Favored, U.S. Men and Women Will Flip for Joy if They Can Pull Off Upsets

September 10, 2000|DIANE PUCIN

MEN

* OVERVIEW--The U.S. men are trying to win their first team medal since the 1984 gold in Los Angeles. If it happens, it will be an upset, no matter how optimistic Coach Peter Kormann is.

"This team is ready," Kormann says.

But the Chinese and Russians are the heavy favorites for gold and silver with Belarus, Japan and Korea expected to battle for the bronze.

If there is to be a single U.S. gymnastics star, it may well be Blaine Wilson, 26, of Columbus, Ohio. He finished fourth in the all-around at last year's World Championships, 1/1000th of a point out of third place. The last U.S. man to win an Olympic all-around medal was Peter Vidmar, who took a silver in 1984.

At the Olympic trials last month, Wilson, who favors tattoos and body piercings, didn't miss a routine and has the necessary degree of difficulty to challenge the men from China, Russia and Japan.

The defending world champion is 21-year-old Nikolai Kryukov of Russia, but he is recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon suffered in 1999 and his participation is questionable.

Naoya Tsukahara, 23, of Japan, won the silver at last year's worlds and a bronze in 1997. He is the son of Mitsuo, who has a vault named after him.

Alexei Nemov, a 24-year-old Russian who won six medals in Atlanta and who has 12 world championship medals, is not to be discounted in the all-around.

Besides Wilson, the U.S. team features 31-year-old three-time Olympian John Roethlisberger and 17-year-old twins Paul and Morgan Hamm of Waukesha, Wis., as well as former UCLA gymnast Stephen McCain and Sean Townsend of Dallas.

* OTHERS TO WATCH--Bulgaria's Jordan Jovtchev, who won bronze at last year's World Championships in the all-around, moved to Norman, Okla., to train. His best achievement was a stellar performance during the team competition at the 1999 worlds that helped Bulgaria earn an Olympic berth.

Also worth watching are Lu Yufu, 21, of China, who was fifth at worlds last year, and 27-year-old Lee Joo-Hyong of Korea, who finished seventh last year and won a gold medal on the parallel bars.

Looking for a dark horse? Erick Lopez of Cuba, who qualified as an individual because the Cuban team didn't make it, is trying to become the first from his country to win a medal.

* BEST STORY--The twins, 17-year-old Paul and Morgan Hamm. Identical down to their freckles, the Hamms are the future of U.S. gymnastics and the first set of twins to make a U.S. Olympics gymnastics team.

Paul finished second at the Olympic trials, guaranteeing himself a spot on the team. Morgan finished sixth and only the top four at the trials earned a trip to Sydney.

After a 30-minute wait while USA Gymnastics coaches and officials conferred, Morgan was also named to the team on the strength of his strong floor exercise and vault scores.

* SOUTHLAND CONNECTION--Stephen McCain, 26, UCLA.

* KEY DATES--Sept. 18, team final, Sept. 20, individual all-around final; Sept. 23, floor exercise, pommel horse, rings finals; Sept. 24, vault, parallel bars, horizontal bars finals.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Fast Fact

* Peter Kormann is the coach of the team now, but his floor exercise bronze in the 1976 Games at Montreal was the first gymnastics medal by a U.S. man in 44 years.

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