Russian Khorkina and the Americans strike gold

Svetlana Khorkina... her commitment shone as she bagged an unprecedented third world all-around title. — Pic. BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES-

THE 37th World gymnastics championships, held recently in Anaheim, California, indeed had a special significance as it marked the 100th anniversary of the first ever international competition in the sport.

THE 37th World gymnastics championships, held recently in Anaheim, California, indeed had a special significance as it marked the 100th anniversary of the first ever international competition in the sport. But then, if the nine-day event somehow managed to negotiate a path towards respectability in the end — struck as it was by international defections, a swathe of injuries and farcical judging — the credit should go wholly to the competing gymnasts. And the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) should ever be indebted to the renaissance of China's elite men gymnasts as well as the history-making Russian diva Svetlana Khorkina.

The guardians of the sport could also take heart from the clutch of five golds that the American gymnasts, led by the mercurial Paul Hamm, picked up, a feat which undoubtedly enabled a partisan home crowd to go home happy. But with the Athens Olympics less than a year away, it is imperative that they make no mistakes in showcasing the finest elements of the sport at the Greek capital. The attempted defections to the host country by three Cuban gymnasts had a cascading effect as the news hogged the limelight in the opening week of the event, a time, quite ironically enough, when Olympic qualification was being decided.

Paul Hamm missed the allaround crown narrowly in Ghent two years ago. This time, in Anaheim he clinched the title by a whisker. — Pic. LISA BLUMENFELD/GETTY IMAGES.-

But if such diplomatic rows could hardly have been foreseen, the Federation was clearly caught on the wrong foot over criticisms that the floor apparatus at the Arrowhead Pond Arena was too hard and too unforgiving on the limbs of the competitors. And no sooner had concerns been raised on this count came the injuries to Anna Hatch and Courtney Kupets which left the American women's team, also shorn of flu-victim Ashley Postell, virtually decimated. That the home side eventually came through as a gold-medal winner riding a wave of emotion is another story which did go a long way in portraying the awe-inspiring nature of the sport and the astonishing spirit of its young athletes to overcome the odds.

The race for the men's team title was a close affair as the Americans gave the Chinese a good run for their money. But as good as the Americans were, the Chinese were better and the Americans harmed their own cause when one of their gymnasts made a mistake and the team coaches reported it. In the vault, Morgan Hamm was scheduled to do a Kasamatsu one-and-a-half, which ends with one-and-a-half twists. That vault had a start value of 9.9, which meant any deductions by the judges were taken from a base of 9.9. Instead, for rea<147,2,1>sons unknown, Hamm did a Kasamatsu with a half twist, which had only a start value of 9.5.

The judges, apparently, missed Hamm's error, but the American coaches did not and they immediately reported it to the jury. Thus, Hamm's score of 9.512 based on the higher start value was reduced to 9.112. But as it turned out, the Chinese did not need the help as they went on to reassert their class and got back to their halcyon days as a powerhouse of the sport.

The Chinese outfit, which triumphed in the men's team event. —Pic. AFP-

The Chinese, as they celebrated the golden triumph, were spearheaded by Li Xiao-Peng who notched up a brilliant 9.762 each in the uneven bars and the vault and an equally impressive 9.600 in the rings. Yang Wei also contributed much towards the Chinese cause as he returned 9.750 on the vault and 9.650 on the floor after Teng Haibin had scored 9.725 in the horizontal bar and 9.712 on the pommel horse.

The Chinese as they won their sixth world title, following victories in 1983, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999, also led through all the six rotations before finishing with a total of 171.996 points. They thus overcame the disappointing fifth place at the 2001 worlds in Ghent, Belgium.

The Americans, who were in hot pursuit of the Asian powerhouse, repeated their silver at Ghent as they finished with 171.121 points.

Japan, which returned after missing the last world championships, nosed out the previously invisible Russia and Romania for the bronze. The Japanese had a tally of 170.708 and the absence of Belarus, the reigning champion, was quite noticeable. The former Russian State could only finish 13th overall in the qualification process and thus was eliminated from the competition.

The U.S. women, who overcame mighty odds to take the team championship. —Pic. AFP-

If the team final was an exciting affair as it went down to the wire, the all-around competition was even more thrilling as Paul Hamm put the smiles back on the American faces with a brilliant show that was marked by a quality display on the horizontal bar. Going into the final event of the night, the 21-year-old Wisconsin native had his task cut out, needing a score of 9.712 or better to overtake China's Yang Wei, the leader till then, and lay his hands on the gold which had slipped quite disastrously from his grasp in Ghent. Hamm, then, was in the lead and had looked destined for the gold, but a hard fall off the horizontal bar on his last rotation was to leave him in tears even as the virtually unknown Chinese Feng Jing came through to take the title.

Here again, it was required of Hamm to come up with a neat display on the horizontal bar and complete his race with a dream win. However, unlike in Ghent, the American gymnast was all concentration. He went through the demanding routine in style and gained a 9.775 to win the gold before a roaring crowd of a little over 6,400. Admittedly, Hamm was pleased with his effort: ``It's incred<147,3,1>ible. It's been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. To be a World champion is such an incredible thing. Yes, (Ghent) was going through my mind because I had a disastrous routine, hitting my face. I knew myself and knew I needed to hit the routine perfectly tonight. I knew I needed to score between a 9.7 or 9.8 and that I did it is quite satisfying.''

Hamm, clinched the gold with a total of 57.774 as against the tally of 57.710 compiled by Yang Wei and 57.435 by bronze medallist Hiroyuki Tomita of Japan. Besides the 9.775 on the horizontal bar, Hamm's other individual scores of the competition were 9.625 on the floor, 9.700 (pommel horse), 9.475 (rings), 9.537 (vault) and 9.662 (uneven bars). Poor Yang had looked to be the more consistent competitor as he led the field initially with a 9.662 on the floor, 9.587 (pommel horse), 9.625 (rings), 9.637 (vault), 9.587 (uneven bars) and 9.612 (horizontal bar).

Tomita too was well in the race for the title until a mediocre 9.200 on the floor forced him to the third spot. The other scores of the Japanese gymnast were: 9.737 (pommel horse), 9.662 (rings), 9.462 (vault), 9.687 (uneven bars) and 9.687 (horizontal bar).

In the individual apparatus, Hamm again had his share of glory as he won a tied gold with Bulgaria's Jordan Jovtchev on the floor. The American who came up with a layout Arabian, and finished his routine with some great tumbling had a score of 9.762, identical to the one picked up by Jovtchev, third last year in Debrecen, whose performance was marked by a 1-1/2 layout front full, Rudi and a very long flair sequence to triple Russian. The Bulgarian, besides this, was once again placed at the top of the podium in the rings as he shared the gold in the event with Dimosthenis Tampakos of Greece. The gymnasts had a score of 9.787 each as Jovtchev, the defending champion, came up with a unique strength combination that led him from a crucifix position to an inverted one and then through a full twist dismount to a perfect landing. The Greek, a silver medallist in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, was also impressive in his strength parts as he earned the shared verdict from the judges.

However, the judging pattern looked farcical as Teng Haibin of China was also forced to share the pommel horse gold with Japan's Kashima Takehiro, who later was to land the gold in the horizontal bar ahead of Italy's Igor Cassina and the Russian legend Alexei Nemov. The two steps that he took after his dismount was what cost the Russian the gold after his brilliant six release and re-catches exercise, three Tkachkovs, two Kovachs and the Gienger that had the crowd on its feet. Thus it was a bronze farewell from the international arena for Nemov, who then announced that he would not be travelling to Athens next year. Takehiro, enroute to his second gold, demonstrated full turns to different grasps and his Stalder and other elements were also executed perfectly.

But all the same, the brilliant <147,4,0>performances of Hamm, Jovtchev and Takehiro were to turn pale in comparison to the masterly performance of China's Li Xiao-Peng as he took the remaining two golds at stake. The Hunan-born gymnast was in a class of his own as he retained the Parallel bars and vault golds with a superb show. In the parallel bars, Li was flawless as he displayed the under somersault to perfection with a half and full turn while in the vault his round of 1/2 turn on-handspring front and Salto forward straight 2-1/2 twist were just as exquisite. Li, as he won the parallel bars, had a score of 9.825 and an equally impressive 9.818 in the vault final. Given the dominant show that he unleashed in Anaheim, it is only to be expected that Li would be a hot contender for these two golds in Athens as well. Incidentally, Li was the lone gymnast who finished the championships with three golds, having earlier figured in the team title.

With Romania — seven-time winner and champion for the last five competitions, dating back to 1994 — considerably weakened after the retirement of its elite stars, notably Andrea Raducan, the race for the women's team title was a wide open affair. Or so it seemed before the Americans overcame the loss of Hatch, Kupets and Postell and put up a brilliant display to land their first ever team gold in the history of the championships. For this, thanks is due for the late stand-in Chellsie Memmel, a fearless 15-year-old. Competing in all four apparatus, Memmel ran up a score of 37.887 as the Americans finished a good two points ahead of the Romanians. The Americans as they tasted success had a tally of 112.573 and the Romanians 110.833 even as Australia won its maiden World championship medal, finishing a dramatic third with 110.335.

That was just made possible by a penalty which China attracted after Fan Ye was docked 0.2 points for warming up on the podium prior to her routine on the balance beam. Then Kang Xi and Zhang Nan only made the life of the Chinese more miserable with poor floor routines in the last rotation. If the Chinese, who eventually finished fourth, were thus left to endure a nightmare through their last two rotations, the performance from the Russian squad too was equally disappointing. The Russians, though boasting of the presence of Khorkina, sadly were never in the picture before they finished way down at the sixth position, even behind Spain.

However, they had their moment of glory two days later when Khorkina lived up to her reputation and won a record third title in a dramatic all-around competition. The two-time defending champion <147,5,0>was reduced to tears of joy after she learned that she had become the first ever man or woman to secure three world all-round titles. And what made her latest triumph all the more compelling was the manner in which the 24-year-old snatched the gold from American Carly Patterson and China's Zhang Nan (the first medal winner in the all-around for her country).

The leader at the start of the fourth and final rotation, Patterson could only watch as Khorkina indulged the crowd with a floor routine full of her typical pomp and ceremony.

The reward of 9.675 for that impressive routine left Patterson needing to score 9.460 or higher in the vault to reclaim the top spot. But the 15-year-old — unable to overcome the pressure and the expectations of the home crowd, could only manage a 9.262 as she finished the routine with a stuttered landing. Khorkina, thus, was left with an unassailable tally of 38.124 points while Patterson had a score of 37.936 and Zhang Nan 37.624.

The Russian queen was indeed a picture of joy as she commented on her performance: ``I was emotional afterwards because it means so much. It was very important for me to win again because this is my last World championships.''

Khorkina, besides the 9.675 on the floor had run up scores of 9.312 in the vault, 9.662 in the uneven bars and 9.475 in the beam as she won her third world title after 1997 and 2001, coming back from the ninth place after the first rotation.

Li Xiao Peng... the only competitor to win three golds at the championships — one in the team and two in the apparatus events. — Pic. AFP-

Patterson, who had taken the lead at the end of the second rotation, had scores of 9.262 (vault), 9.525 (uneven bars), 9.612 (beam) and 9.537 (floor) while Zhang Nan, the early leader after a fine 9.700 (in the beam) could hardly sustain that great show. She was mediocre through the remaining three rounds: 9.250 (vault), 9.262 (uneven bars) and 9.412 (floor).

Memmel was in focus again during the individual apparatus sharing the uneven bars gold with team-mate Hollie Vise, even as Elizabeth Tweddle with the bronze landed Great Britain's first World championship medal.

<147,6,0>In the vault, it was Uzbekistan's 28-year-old Oksana Chusovitina who triumphed ahead of Russia's Elena Zamolodchikova and North Korea's Mi Yun-Kang, precisely 12 years after she had won a World championship silver.

Fan Ye helped swell the Chinese haul with a superb show in the beam while Daiane Santos Dos was a real stunner as she took the floor event and helped Brazil to its first World gold.

Daiane Santos Dos of Brazil (middle) won the first ever gold for her country in the World championships. The medal came in the floor exercises. Santos is flanked by silver-medallist Catalina Ponor (left) of Romania and bronze winner Elena Gomez of Spain. — Pic. AFP-

As the curtain came down, there was no mistaking the fact that it was Khorkina's superb achievement which stood the tallest. The first World gymnastics championship was held in the Velodrome du Sud in Antwerp, Belgium, from August 14-18, 1903 with the participation of just four nations. And while the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the championships, it was only befitting that this show should be marked with something exceptional. Svetlana Khorkina, by moving into a new zone, provided just that. Long live the Queen!

The results:

Men: Team: 1. China (Xing Aowei, Huang Xu, Li Xiao-Peng, Teng Haibin, Xiao Qin, Yang Wei), 171.996 points, 2. United States (Raj Bhavsar, Jason Gatson, Morgan Hamm, Paul Hamm, Brett McClure, Blaine Wilson), 171.121, 3. Japan (Takehiro Kashima, Hiroyuki Tomita, Naoya Tsukahara, Tatsuya Yamada), 170.708.

Individual All-Around: 1. Paul Hamm (U.S.), 57.774, 2. Yang Wei <147,7,0>(Chn), 57.710, 3. Hiroyuki Tomita (Jpn), 57.435.

Individual apparatus: Floor: 1. Paul Hamm (U.S.) & Jordan Jovtchev (Bul), 9.762, 3. Kyle Shewfelt (Can), 9.737. Horizontal Bars: 1. Takehiro Kashima (Jpn), 9.775, 2. Igor Cassina (Ita), 9.750, 3. Alexei Nemov (Rus), 9.737. Parallel Bars: 1. Li Xiao-Peng (Chn), 9.825, 2. Huang Xu (Chn) & Alexei Nemov (Rus), 9.762. Pommel Horse: 1. Teng Haibin (Chn) & Takehiro Kashima (Jpn), 9.762, 3. Nikolai Kryukov (Rus), 9.725. Rings: 1. Jordan Jovtchev (Bul) & Dimosthenis Tampakos (Gre), 9.787, 3. Matteo Morandi (Ita) & Andrea Coppolino (Ita), 9.700. Vault: 1. Li Xiao-Peng (Chn), 9.818, 2. Marian Dragulescu (Rom), 9.687, 3. Kyle Shewfelt (Can), 9.612.

She is 28 and that is virtually over the hill in gymnastics. But then Oksana Chusovitina claimed the vault gold, a full 12 years after she had won a World championship silver. — Pic. REUTERS-

Women: Team: 1. United States (Terin Humphrey, Chellsie Memmel, Carly Patterson, Tasha Schwikert, Hollie Vise), 112.573, 2. Romania (Monica Rosu, Mihaela Oana Ban, Florica Leonida, A. Munteanu, Catalina Ponor, A. Eremia), 110.833, 3. Australia (Belinda Archer, Jacqui Dunn, Monette Russo, Allana Slater), 110.335.

Individual All-Around: 1. Svetlana Khorkina (Rus), 38.124, 2. Carly Patterson (U.S.), 37.936, 3. Zhang Nan (Chn), 37.624.

Individual apparatus: Beam: 1. Fan Ye (Chn), 9.812, 2. Catalina Ponor (Rom), 9.587, 3. Liudmila Ezhova (Rus), 9.550. Floor: 1. Daiane Santos Dos (Bra), 9.737, 2. Catalina Ponor (Rom), 9.700, 3. Elena Gomez (Esp), 9.675. Uneven Bars: 1. Hollie Vise (U.S.), 9.612 & Chellsei Memmel (U.S.), 9.612, 3. Elizabeth Tweddle (Gbr), 9.512. Vault: 1. Oksana Chusovitina (Uzb), 9.481, 2. Mi Yun-Kang (Prk), 9.443 & Elena Zamolodchikova (Rus), 9.443.