Exciting fare, a few surprises, too

COMING barely three days after the World artistic gymnastics championships in Debrecen, Hungary, the two-day World Cup final in Stuttgart, Germany, was an exciting affair marked by a few brilliant performances. Yet again, the November 30-December 1 event saw the total decimation of the Russians, who not long ago were undisputed champions at the world stage.

Jordan Jovtchev had an excellent routing on way to the men's rings title.

There were quite a few surprises as well, but what proved most interesting was the revenge which Jordan Jovtchev (Bulgaria) gained over his Debrecen conqueror Szilvester Csollany in the rings.

The Hungarian had won over Jovtchev both at the 2000 World Cup final in Glasgow and then again at his own turf just four days ago in a spectacular show of strength on the apparatus.

But then, here Jovtchev's incredibly difficult cross and the transition to the inverted cross just blew away the World champion.

The Bulgarian was credited with 9.700 before Csollany and Sean Townsend (United States) were forced to be satisfied with a tied bronze (9.537) by Andrea Coppolino (Italy) who sneaked in to gain the silver with a score of 9.600.

Fresh from his second World title in Debrecen, Marian Dragulsecsu (Romania) added yet another important title to his kitty as he won the floors gold with some faultless tumbling. Kyle Schewfelt took the silver with 9.637 — just behind his Romanian rival (9.662) — with two very strong tumbling runs and a steady fall in fall out finish.

Jovtchev, in his attempt to gain a second gold, was to finish only with the bronze but once again won a loud applause from the audience at the Hans Martin Scheleyer hall for his pommels-borrowed-flairs.

Lu Bin had the last say in the men's vault with a score of 9.749.

Dragulsecsu, however, could gain only a bronze in the vault though he did come out with his patented handspring double front tuck half out and double twisting layout Tsukahara in an impressive manner.

It was Lu Bin from China who had the last say in this event as his double twisting Cuervo and double Tsukahara pike gained him a score of 9.749 from the judges as he beat back the challenge from Leszek Blanik (Poland), the silver-medallist from Debrecen in style.

The Pole was credited with 9.687 for his handspring double front pike and Tsukahara pike while Dragulsecu came in third with 9.550.

Three time World champion Marius Urzica retained his Glasgow gold with a determined and stable performance on the pommel horse. The Romanian as usual found little challenge from the rest of the field as he won a score of 9.787 from the judges and finished ahead of team-mate Ioan Silviu Suciu (9.712) and China's Huang Xu, who kept the great traditions of his country with a typically elegant and dynamic performance.

The biggest disappointment over this piece was the failure of Nikolai Krukov (Russia), one of the master performers on the apparatus, to get into the medals. The Russian superstar was placed fourth as he missed the bronze by a narrow 0.012 points.

Elena Zamolodchikova repeated her Debrecen success on the vault.

Li Xiao Peng (China) was another who kept his reputation in tact, bringing gasps from the throng before winning the parallel bars final.

The World champion en route to the gold presented a classic routine with double somies between the bars (first in the pike position and second in tucked) for a high score of 9.837. Huang Xu with a precise and accurate exercise made it 1-2 for China gaining a score of 9.787 and forcing former World champion Sean Townsend to settle for the bronze with 9.700.

Alexei Bondarenko looked as if he was in line to salvage Russia's pride as he brought off a spectacular routine in the horizontal bars which was laced with five releases and re-catches -- three of them Tkachevs and four of the releases performed in a row.

But a big step after the dismount was to spoil his chances and that of Russia's. Aljas Pegan of Slovenia with a master performance that ended with a triple slato dismount was the eventual winner with 9.673 ahead of Philippe Rizzo (Australia) and Sven Kwiatkowski who ensured at least a bronze for the host Germany.

Elena Zamolodchikova, thus, was once again Russia's mascot in the two-day championship as she repeated her Debrecen success on the vault.

However, the Russian had to be satisfied with a tied gold here as the evergreen Oksana Chusovitina (Uzbekistan) came up with an equally sizzling display. The two were tied at 9.412 ahead of Verona van de Leur (Holland), whose Yurchenko double twist and Round off 1/2 on and 1/2 off Tsukahara pike had helped her gain 9.268.

Verona, later, was to meet with unexpected success on the floor as two of the potential winners Elena Zamolodchikova, team-mate Natalia Ziganchina committed mistakes in their tumbling series and the 2001 World champion Andreea Raducan also suffered during her routine.

It was a maiden gold for the Dutch youngster thus as she celebrated victory at 9.412 ahead of Asian Games champion Zhang Nan (China) and the elegant Allana Slater (Australia). Chusovitina was another strong contender but her lower starting value (9.40) was to dash her hopes of a medal though she was the steadiest gymnast on show.

Verona van de Leur, who met with unexpected success in the womes's floor event.

Oana Petrovshi also gained from the failure of her rivals as she upgraded her Debrecen silver to a gold in the uneven bars. This after Slater, Monica Bergamelli (Italy) and Jana Komrskova (Czech Republic) turned victims of the competition stress and came off the apparatus.

The Romanian as she landed the gold with 9.500 once again displayed the same difficult combinations that had helped her to the World championship silver and in the end was an easy winner over Jacqui Dunn (Australia) and Verona van de Leur, the eventual silver and bronze medallists.

China too had its moments of glory as Sun Xiao Jiao with an acrobatic series and shaped leaps brought it the gold in the beam with a score of 9.487.

The inspired performance by the Chinese girl was also to deny Zamolodchikova of a second gold as the Russian with 9.162 was forced to be satisfied with the silver ahead of who else, but Chusovitina (9.025).

Anna Bessonova (Ukraine) and Simona Peycheva (Bulgaria) were the stars of the rhythmic gymnastics final, winning all the four golds at stake among themselves. While the Ukrainian had a clean victory with the rope and the hoop, the Bulgarian was best with the ball.

On the last event, the clubs, both gymnasts scored equal, 27.050, but the tie-breaking procedures (taking into account all the judges' scores) gave advantage to Bessonova. The 18-year-old from Kiev was impressive with her apparatus handling skills, dynamic performances and last but not the least her consistency.

And enthralling in particular were her routines with the hoop, choreographed to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Also impressive was Simona's new ball and club routines, the latter to the tune of a popular Bulgarian folk song.

The more experienced of the two Ukrainians in the final, Tamara Yerofeeva added to the success of her country with three bronzes for her ball, hoop and clubs routines. Zarina Gizkova won the silver medal on the hoop and Vera Sesina took the bronze on the rope.

In the absence of star gymnasts Alina Kabaeva and Irina Tchashina, these incidentally were the only two medals that Russia won at this championship.