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ATHENS 2004

Hatch Takes Long Way to an Improbable Silver

Coming to U.S. after her career seems over in Cuba, she earns medal. Greek gets gold in rings.

August 23, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Annia Hatch couldn't stop smiling. Eight years ago, Cuba wouldn't send Hatch to the Atlanta Olympics for lack of funding. Hatch thought her career was over.

A year ago, after immigrating to the U.S. to marry her husband Alan, who is now her coach, Hatch thought her career was over after she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee a day before the world championships.

Sunday night at Olympic Indoor Hall, Hatch said she completed a story. It is a story of triumph. The 26-year-old who helped the U.S. women's team win a silver medal last Tuesday, won her own silver by sticking the landing of her second vault and finishing behind Romania's Monica Rosu in the event final.

It was the first of three medals won by U.S. women. Terin Humphrey and Courtney Kupets took silver and bronze on the uneven bars behind France's Emilie Lepennec, the surprise gold medalist.

For the near-sellout crowd, all that was merely a prelude. The grand event came last when Dimosthenis Tampakos, their own "Dimos," went first among the eight competitors on still rings and finished with the gold medal, the second for Greece in the Olympics.

The deafening cheering as Tampakos was introduced turned to silence as Tampakos competed and became even noisier cheering as Tampakos landed with his back straight, his knees steady, his feet still.

When none of the other men could beat Tampakos' score of 9.862, the celebration lasted for nearly 15 minutes, during the playing of the Greek anthem and afterward as Tampakos took a victory lap. The Zorba the Greek song played and volunteers hooked arms and danced alongside Tampakos, a silver medalist in 2000 and the defending world champion.

"I thank God, who helped me live what I am living," Tampakos said. "It is something unique to share such a moment with so many people."

Jordan Jovtchev of Bulgaria won the silver and Yuri Chechi of Italy earned the bronze.

With the medals by Hatch, Humphrey and Kupets, the U.S. men's and women's teams have won seven after winning none in 2000.

Hatch took a step out of the landing of her first vault. Her husband whispered encouragement in her ear.

"I just took a deep breath," Hatch said, "then thought, 'Just one more. You know how to do this. Just stay focused and have fun.' That's what I did."

Hatch scored 9.400 on her first vault, 9.562 on the second and averaged 9.481. She could not threaten Rosu, who landed both her vaults for an average score of 9.656. Anna Pavlova of Russia took the bronze.

Svetlana Khorkina, two-time defending Olympic champion on the uneven bars, lost her rhythm halfway through her routine and dropped to the ground. After completing her performance, Khorkina stalked out. She refused to watch Humphrey, the final competitor.

Khorkina spent three days complaining about the result of the all-around competition won by the United States' Carly Patterson, calling the judging unfair. Khorkina, 25, who is likely done with her international career, received an 8.925, lowest of the eight competitors. She could not complain about that score even as the crowd rewarded her with a loud ovation as she left.

Humphrey was up last on the uneven bars. She needed at least 9.600 to medal and had earned 9.625 in preliminaries and 9.575 during the team final. Humphrey saved her best. She swung fast, twisted and turned high in the air and had only the tiniest of steps on her landing. The score flashed 9.662, good for silver.

"I think it was a pretty awesome finish," U.S. women's coach Kelli Hill said. "It's good to see three girls compete and three girls medal."

With six more event finals today, the U.S. has six more chances to medal.

Paul Hamm, who won a disputed gold medal in the all-around Wednesday and who had a disappointing fifth-place finish on the floor exercise and sixth-place finish on pommel horse Sunday, will try for medals on the parallel bars and high bar. His twin brother Morgan also qualified for the high bar final.

Kupets and Patterson made the beam final, where Patterson is a favorite to win a medal. Team captain Mohini Bhardwaj will compete on the floor.

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