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Hatch's Knee Injury Is Blow to Women's Team

Loss of vault specialist creates uncertainty for U.S. gymnasts on eve of world championships.

August 17, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

What promised to be a crowning moment for the revived U.S. women's gymnastics team now looms as a time of confusion and uncertainty after a serious knee injury that knocked vault specialist Annia Hatch out of the World Gymnastics Championships on the eve of the women's team preliminaries.

Hatch, who won the U.S. vault title in June, completely tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, tore the medial and lateral meniscus and dislocated her kneecap Saturday upon landing a double-twisting Tsukahara vault during a practice session at the Anaheim Convention Center. She was taken by ambulance to UCI Medical Center, where tests confirmed the damage.

Her place was taken by Terin Humphrey, who had been the second alternate. The first alternate, Chellsie Memmel, was promoted to the starting lineup Friday, after a high fever and stomach flu rendered Ashley Postell unable to compete. Postell, the world balance beam champion last year, was designated a reserve and can compete this week only if someone is injured in practice today.

Hatch, the oldest member of the U.S. team at 25, won a bronze medal in the vault at the 1996 world championships while competing for her native Cuba. A Connecticut resident, she gained U.S. citizenship in 2001 and became eligible to compete for her new country this year.

"Under these difficult circumstances, we have pulled the team together and we're ready to go out and face the world," Martha Karolyi, the U.S. women's team program director, said in a statement. "We're lucky we have such a deep team."

Without Hatch in its lineup for the team preliminaries tonight at the Arrowhead Pond, the U.S. team's average age drops dramatically.

Carly Patterson -- still recovering from an elbow injury that kept her out of the U.S. championships -- Hollie Vise and Memmel are 15. U.S. all-around champion Courtney Kupets is 16 and former U.S. champion Tasha Schwikert, the team captain, is 18. Humphrey turned 17 three days ago.

Humphrey, of Blue Spring, Mo., was sixth in the all-around at the U.S. championships in June. At last year's world championships, she finished ninth in vault and 11th in floor exercise.

Hatch's powerful, precise vaulting and her outstanding tumbling skills on the floor made her a valuable member of the team. She was expected to contribute heavily toward advancing the U.S. team to the team finals Wednesday.

In the team finals, each team sends out three athletes and all three scores will count. The format favors teams that don't have much depth -- a situation in which the U.S. women unexpectedly find themselves.

"You hate to see something like this happen. Annia's a very special athlete and she's overcome a lot in her life," said Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics. "But the team will step up and be ready to go [today]."

He also said Memmel, Patterson, Schwikert and Kupets will compete in all four events in an effort to qualify for the all-around finals. However, the U.S. is limited to two entries in the all-around finals.

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