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OLYMPIC SCENE HELENE ELLIOTT

Injuries Catch Up to Romanian Women

April 19, 2002|HELENE ELLIOTT

Sports dynasties rise and fall, but Romania's domination of women's gymnastics has endured.

Romania's women's team has won the last five world championships and the team gold at the Sydney Olympics. Romanian women also won the European championship in 1994, 1996 and 1998 before finishing third in 2000.

All that tumbling and vaulting, however, takes a toll on young bodies. At one point last month, every member of last year's world championship team was injured, leading officials of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation to keep the senior women's team home from this year's European meet in Patras, Greece.

Their injuries included Sabina Cojocar's shoulder surgery, Silvia Stroescu's back injury, and a knee injury and subsequent weight gain experienced by Andreea Raducan, who won the all-around gold medal at Sydney but lost her prize after testing positive for pseudoephedrine.

Romania will send a promising junior women's team and one senior-level woman, Oana Petrovschi, to Patras. It will also send a senior men's team, which is expected to vie with defending champion Russia for the team title. The women's competition began Thursday and ends Sunday. The men's competition will begin next Thursday.

The absence of Romania's senior women is noteworthy, but it's not a cause for alarm, said Nadia Comaneci, whose triple-gold medal efforts at the 1976 Montreal Olympics pulled her homeland into the international spotlight.

"This is the first time this is happening to Romania, but it's just an unfortunate time," said Comaneci, who has Romanian and U.S. citizenship but lives in the U.S. with her husband, Bart Conner.

"The seniors are hurt, and this is not an important year. They have some pains here and there, so they can take treatment and make sure everything is better. Next year is really important because qualifying for worlds is important for the [2004] Olympics."

She also said Romanian gymnasts have good funding and facilities, which isn't the case for all Eastern European athletes. Many Russian figure skaters, for example, have left home to train in the United States because economic conditions depleted their country's sports programs.

"Man, they have more than you can imagine," Comaneci said of the gymnasts. "Facility-wise and training-wise, they have all they need."

Comaneci is an honorary vice president of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and honorary president of the Romanian Olympic Committee. She said she speaks weekly with Romanian sports officials to keep up with what's happening. She will go to Greece for the European gymnastics meet "because I'm curious," and said she is looking forward to the 2003 world championships in Anaheim.

The highlight of the European meet will be Russian Svetlana Khorkina's attempt to win her third consecutive all-around title and match the record Comaneci set by winning in 1975, 1977 and 1979. The defending men's all-around champion is Alexander Beresch of Ukraine.

Marathon Man

Not so many years ago, Khalid Khannouchi was a Moroccan immigrant who washed dishes in a Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant to support his passion for running.

Sunday, almost two years after becoming a U.S. citizen, Khannouchi set a world record in winning the London Marathon in 2 hours 5 minutes 38 seconds.

Khannouchi's breakthrough came in 1997, when he won the Chicago Marathon. However, subsequent injuries cast a cloud over his durability, doubts that were dispelled when he beat Paul Tergat of Kenya by 10 seconds on the flat course.

"The quality of the field meant that I had to work really hard to win," Khannouchi said Sunday. "I said before that if we had the opportunity for good weather and good competition, we had a chance to break the record. And today, everything was perfect."

Who Needs the NFL

if There's Water Polo?

The U.S. men's national team, which has been in Europe the last few weeks, will come home for the first season of the FINA Water Polo World League. The eight-team league will make its debut in late June, with the U.S. playing its home games at Los Alamitos. The finals will take place Aug. 1-4 in Athens.

The U.S. will be in Group B with Sydney gold medalist Hungary, Sydney runner-up Russia and Croatia. Group A will have Spain, Italy, Greece and Brazil. Two teams from each group--including host Greece--will advance to the finals at Athens.

FINA, swimming's international governing body, has committed more than $1.6 million over four years to support the league and award prize money. That could help keep some top U.S. players at home instead of playing professionally in Europe.

Here and There

Alain Baxter, who won Great Britain's first Olympic Alpine skiing medal when he finished third in the men's slalom but lost it after testing positive for methamphetamine, has appealed the International Olympic Committee's decision to take away the medal. Baxter has taken his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He claims the form of the drug found in his system was a decongestant and not a performance-enhancing drug.

Washington revised its bid to host the 2012 Olympics, condensing events to center activities in Washington and Baltimore. The new proposal focuses on a new sports complex on the site of RFK Stadium.... Bill May will defend his overall title at the U.S. synchronized swimming championships this weekend in Oxford, Ohio. Yes, his title. May is the sport's lone male competitor. His nickname is "synchro stud."

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