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U.S. Gymnasts Looking Strong for 2004 Games

In tying China for the most gold medals at the world championships, the team could be signaling a power shift despite being shut out on the final day.

August 25, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Quicker than Daiane Dos Santos tumbled across the mat to win the floor exercise gold medal for Brazil, more decisively than Li Xiao-Peng hit the vaulting table and traversed the parallel bars Sunday to win China's fourth and fifth gold medals of the World Gymnastics Championships, the balance of power in the sport shifted away from some traditional European strongholds and toward the U.S.

In tying China for the most gold medals and winning seven medals overall, one fewer than the pre-meet favorite Chinese, the U.S. made an unmistakable statement. And it did so with a women's team that lost three experienced athletes to illness or injury before the competition, yet made history by winning gold.

"We achieved our potential at this competition and lived up to what we're capable of doing," said Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics. "We made a very loud statement going to Athens."

It resonated even though the U.S. was shut out in Sunday's event finals, which drew 8,821 to the Arrowhead Pond and brought the total attendance to 85,872 for 15 sessions over nine days.

Blaine Wilson finished sixth on the parallel bars and blossoming star Chellsie Memmel of West Allis, Wis., ended a streak of having hit 23 consecutive routines when she fell off the balance beam, consigning her to sixth.

Memmel also endured more inspection than most.

Colarossi said USA Gymnastics, at the request of "someone from the Jury of Appeal" of the FIG -- the French acronym for the International Gymnastics Federation -- gave the FIG tapes of Memmel's uneven bars routines in the qualifying and team final. The apparent motivation was to determine if her start values had been too high, which would have allowed her to earn excessively high scores. Start values are determined by judges based on the elements and moves gymnasts perform.

Martha Karolyi, director of the U.S. women's national team program, identified the official as Leonid Arkayev of Russia, whose athletes won one gold medal and six total medals, down from three golds and seven overall at the last full World Championships in 2001. The U.S. won one gold, one silver and two bronze medals in 2001.

"I hear he commented that the tape needed to be reviewed because some strong start values were given," Karolyi said. "Based on my knowledge, that's against the rules.... Arkayev was discussing it with some judges and some big talk was going on in the judges' community."

Memmel's start value on the uneven bars was 10 in qualifying and the team event but 9.8 in the all-around competition. She had the second-highest qualifying score but finished eighth in the all-around event.

Her coach, Jim Chudy, said the 15-year-old "identified herself as a leader" after coming to Anaheim as an alternate and thus drew extra study. He also said she was hurt by the reduction in her start value in the all-around competition.

"I felt the start value was merited to be the same as it had been the day before," Chudy said. "She felt under tougher scrutiny in the all-around final than the days prior. Once her bars score came up and it was .2 lower than the day before, she felt deflated, and her beam [performance] was disastrous."

FIG Vice President Slava Corn of Canada said no formal review of Memmel's work had been requested. She referred questions to Jackie Fie, the FIG's technical director, but Fie could not be reached.

Sunday's events provided exciting closure to the competition.

Aside from China's Li, who opened the session by defending his world vault title with a meet-high 9.818 and defeated compatriot Huang Xu to repeat as parallel bars champion, Romania won three silver medals for a meet total of four, all silver. That's down dramatically from its 2001 total of six gold and two bronze. Catalina Ponor was the runner-up on balance beam and floor exercise, and Marian Dragulescu was second to Li on the men's vault.

And Fan Ye of China earned cheers for her triumphant 9.812 on the balance beam. "I want to be the Olympic champion on beam," she said.

For her, and the rest of the gymnastics world, the countdown to Athens began Sunday.


Courtney Kupets, who tore her left Achilles' tendon last week, underwent surgery Saturday and is expected to resume practicing in four months, Karolyi said. U.S. vault champion Annia Hatch will have surgery Sept. 2 on her torn anterior cruciate ligament.

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