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U.S. Falters but Future Is Bright


SYDNEY, Australia — On his 18th birthday today, Morgan Hamm finished seventh out of eight competitors in the floor exercise final.

This was not a disgrace.

While Hamm, of Waukesha, Wis., stumbled on his last tumbling pass and had to put both hands down to keep from falling on his face, Hamm gained valuable experience.

He learned what he needed to do so that four years from now he and his twin brother, Paul, can win medals instead of just watching the medal ceremony.

Igors Vihrovs, a 22-year-old from Latvia whose most notable international finish was a fifth at the 2000 Turnier der Meister meet in Germany, was the surprise winner.

Vihrovs scored 9.812, just ahead of Olympic men's all-around champion Alexei Nemov, who scored a 9.800. Jordan Jovtchev of Bulgaria won bronze with a score of 9.787. Hamm earned a 9.262.

Nemov added a bronze medal in the pommel horse. The winner was a 24-year-old Romanian policeman, Marius Urzica, with silver going to Eric Poujade of France. The crowd booed the 9.80 score of Nemov after Nemov moved across the horse effortlessly. Urzica received a 9.862 and Poujade a 9.825.

Elena Zamolodtchikova of Russia won the gold in the vault with Andreea Ruducan of Romania taking the silver and Ekaterina Lobazniouk of Russia winning the bronze.

Hamm, whose brother Paul finished 14th in the men's all-around final last week, triumphed by making the final. There was disappointment for Morgan because, on his final tumbling pass, Hamm stumbled forward and put his hands down.

But the Olympic experience for both Paul and Morgan, the chance to compete against the best in the world, bodes well for the future of men's gymnastics.

Paul and Morgan were considered longshots to make the U.S. team at all and they turned into two of the steadiest performers.

"They don't have any weaknesses," Stacy Maloney, coach of both the Hamms, said. "If you could see how far they've come just over the last year it would blow your mind."

The U.S. team is working on its poorest performance since 1972. Unless either Blaine Wilson on the vault or Elise Ray on the balance beam can win a medal it will be the first time since 1972 that both teams were shut out.

"I think over the next four years we're just going to get stronger as a team," Morgan Hamm said. "Having this experience makes me want to get back in the gym and start working for 2004."

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