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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | GYMNASTICS

Now Khorkina Is as Good as Gold

September 25, 2000|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Svetlana has been angry, pushed away cameramen, brushed off her coach and told reporters to "get lost."

Svetlana has pouted and brooded, fallen and cried. Svetlana has become the diva of the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Svetlana Khorkina, the long-legged, short-haired Russian gymnast and Playboy magazine model, finally got her gold medal Sunday.

Performing with icy calm and high danger on the uneven bars, Khorkina scored a 9.862 to win the apparatus final at the SuperDome.

In today's vault final American Blaine Wilson finished sixth, and in the balance beam final, Elise Ray finished eighth.

So for the first time since 1972, the U.S. gymnastics team will go home without a medal.

Gervasio Deferr of Spain took the gold in the vault, Alexei Bondarenko of Russia the silver and Leszek Blanik of Poland the bronze.

Liu Xuan of China won the balance beam gold with Russian teammates Ekaterina Lobazniouk and Elena Prodounova getting the silver and bronze, respectively.

Li Xiaopeng won the parallel bars gold medal with Lee Joo-Hyung of South Korea taking silver and Russia's Alexei Nemov winning the bronze. It was Nemov's fifth medal of the Games. He won the all-around gold, two silvers and two bronzes and had the chance today to win one more medal on the high bar final.

Wilson fell on the landing of his first vault and had a low start value of 9.60 on his second vault. Ray had a near fall on a flip and also had a lower start value than any of the other seven finalists.

"You always come into a competition expecting to win a medal," Wilson said, "but winning a medal doesn't make you a better person. At this point I really don't care what happened."

During Thursday's all-around competition, where she had been the favorite, Khorkina took a hard fall on the vault. It turned out that the equipment had been set up incorrectly, two inches too low, and Khorkina's fall to her knees had not been her fault.

"If I didn't get over the disappointment of the vault the other night," Khorkina said, "then I wouldn't be Khorkina. Tomorrow I'm going to dance for Russia."

The diva finally spoke Monday. But first she hugged her coach, then the Chinese coach, then each of the other seven competitors. Then Khorkina kissed everybody. She blew kisses to the crowd and threw them her flowers.

Finally Khorkina told the world that she had given up the chance to compete on the vault Monday so that her teammate, Yelena Zamolodtchikova, could compete. Zamolodtchikova won the gold.

"I had a feeling Yelena would win the gold," Khorkina said. "I am really glad she got to experience the feeling of winning the gold. I am glad I could give her that."

After Thursday's disaster on the vault, Khorkina had left the SuperDome angry and without the all-around gold she expected.

"What happened Thursday was difficult and it was cruel," Khorkina said through a translator. "When you have equipment which was not standard, it is quite possible to get killed."

Khorkina, 21, got over the trauma of the vault quickly, though. She visited the Sydney Aquarium, she got a manicure and she got a haircut. A very short haircut. There was a gasp when Khorkina came onto the floor Monday. Had she cut her hair in anger or despair?

"No, I just needed to get over things," Khorkina said.

"I was able to remain very, very far away from the disappointment," Khorkina said. "It remains far away now. Like at the North Pole or somewhere."

Khorkina, who has two moves named after her on the uneven bars, beat two Chinese gymnasts. Ling Ji took the silver with a score of 9.837 and Yang Yun got the bronze with a 9.787.

As she watched Ling, Khorkina's brow was furrowed. Ling took a small hop on her landing, just enough of a mistake to give Khorkina the gold. Khorkina ran to the bars, hoisted herself up and gave the bar a big kiss.

As the Russian national anthem played, Khorkina clutched the medal in both hands, fists clenched tightly around it, and she cried. "I did cross the vault out of my life," Khorkina said, "but a thing like that can never be forgotten. When they were putting the gold medal on me, I think I deserve it."

Also Sunday, in the men's event finals, Hungary's Silveszter Csollany won the rings gold medal. Dimosthenis Tampakos of Greece took silver and Jordan Jovtchev of Bulgaria got the bronze.

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