News Flash


September 24, 2000

RUSSIA WINS FIRST WOMEN'S GOLD

Last-minute substitute Yelena Zamolodchikova (she replaced teammate Svetlana Khorkina) claimed the Games first event gold, defending her '99 world crown and securing the Russian women their first top spot at these Olympics with a 9.731 average.

Though, Zamolodchikova has had a rough Games, she failed to qualify to either the all-around or vault finals after a poor prelims performance, then lost a chance at all-around gold after being substituted in to that event, the vault gold should make up for all her tears.

Second place went to Olympic all-around champ Andreea Raducan (Romania), who earned a 9.693 average. Bronze went to Zamolodchikova's teammate, Yekaterina Lobaznyuk (9.674).

Top qualifier Esther Moya (Spain) was fourth with a 9.618 average. Mexican favorite Denisse Lopez, couldn't control her daring efforts, finishing eighth (8.843). '96 Olympic champ Simona Amanar (Romania) finished sixth with a 9.537.

All-around men's champ Alexei Nemov (Russia) won't match Vitaly Scherbo's six gold medal Olympic effort. The world floor champ settled for silver behind Latvia's Igor Vihrov (9.812 to 9.8), who had sat out the all-around to "save his strength" for finals. Vihrov's win was Latvia's first-ever Olympic gold.

Bulgarian Jordan Jovtchev, competing in his third Games, finally won his first Olympic medal, claiming an unexpected floor bronze (9.787).

Morgan Hamm (USA), competing in his first meet as an 18-year-old (he and brother Paul celebrate their birthdays today), finished seventh with a 9.262 (hands down on last pass). Russian Yevgeny Podgorny's usual springiness failed him. He finished eighth after a badly botched set (8.55).

 

September 24, 2000

RUSSIANS PROTEST RESULTS

Russian coach Leonid Arkayev has submitted a formal letter of protest to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) according to reports by NBC Sports. In it, Arkayev addresses the issue of the incorrect vault setting used for half of the women's all-around competition. (The horse was inadvertently set five centimeters -- about two inches -- shorter than International Gymnastics Federation standards.)

Arkayev says that the competition should have been restarted after the vault discrepancy was discovered, but would not reveal what redress, if any, he is asking for from the IOC, who have previously dismissed the incident, stating that the "all-around winners deserved their medals." (For more on the too-low vault and reaction to the controversy see our Olympic "Notes & Quotes" section.)

Top Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina, the gold medal favorite, stumbled on vault then dropped off bars after a lackluster effort. Many feel that if Khorkina had known about the vault error (and her ability to repeat the botched vault) she would have entered the bars, usually her best event, with a completely different mindset. (As it was she thought she was already out of the medals.) Khorkina had been leading the competition after one rotation, before going to vault, and had topped the preliminary standings.

"The competition should have been stopped and started from the beginning again," Arkayev told NBC Sports. "Because the equipment was not right the results are questionable. Khorkina is a very precise gymnast [and the five] centimeters made a big impact on her performance. She lost her concentration right away, making it a completely different competition."

Arkayev, who waited three days after the all-around concluded to contact the IOC, said he didn't take action earlier because he hadn't even been aware of the vaulting problem until the all-around competition was nearly over.

Khorkina, devastated after her all-around disappointment, passed on an opportunity to redo her vaults and has yet to address the media about the all-around events.

 

September 24, 2000

URZICA TURNS SILVER TO GOLD

Romania's Marius Urzica upgraded his Atlanta silver to Sydney gold in tonight's pommel horse competition Urzica scored a 9.862 to best Eric Poujade of France (9.825) and world champ Alexei Nemov of Russia (9.8) for the title.

Former world and Olympic champ Pae Gil-Su of North Korea tied for sixth with Hungary's Zoltan Supola with a 9.762 and current world all-around champ Nikolai Kryukov finished eighth with a 9.7.

This pommel horse final was the first in recent memory where NONE of the finalists fell, keeping it a close contest until the last competitor (less than two tenths separated first and last place).

 

September 24, 2000

KHORKINA REPEATS

Svetlana Khorkina has her long-awaited Sydney gold medal. Finally. Though it may not have been the ones she wanted most (team and all-around), a repeat gold on bars put the Russian superstar back on solid ground for the first time at these Games.

Khorkina, who was devastated by her team's second-straight silver (both times Team Russia had come into finals with the lead), was then forced to endure an all-around vault debacle that may have cost her the Olympic crown (see earlier September 24 "News Flash" for more).

Though she has been portrayed as a "diva" by the media, most notably US network NBC, few could blame Khorkina for being emotional after her rough week. But Khorkina's "Olympic nightmare," as US gold medalist Peter Vidmar termed it, seems to be over. It was all smiles, waves and kisses to the crowd after a 9.862 on bars guaranteed her her first gold of the Games. Since first securing the 1994 European title, Khorkina has consistently won every major bars crown up for grabs (European, world and Olympic). Her last notable "defeat" was world bronze in 1994.

Following Khorkina onto the medal stand -- as with men's pommel horse the bars final was notable for its complete lack of major misses -- were the outstanding Chinese duo of Ling Jie (9.837) and Yang Yun (9.787).

Ukrainian Viktoria Karpenko finished just out of the medals with a 9.775.

 

September 24, 2000

CSOLLANY NEW RINGS KING

After eight years in the rings medal mix (he first medaled at worlds in 1992), Hungary's Szilvester Csollany finally has gold. The silver-medalist in 1996, Csollany, the last competitor, roared past his competition with a whopping 9.85 to secure the top spot.

Second place went to Greek strongman Dimosthenis Tambakos (9.762), who will be looking to emulate Csollany's second-to-first-place upgrade four years from now when the Olympics hit his home-country.

Bulgaria's Jordan Jovtchev, fourth on this event in '96, earned his second bronze of the day with a 9.737 performance. Jovtchev came into today's competition tied with Csollany for first (9.775 prelim scores).

'99 world rings champ Dong Zhen (China) was absent from tonight's competition after failing to make the Chinese Olympic squad. Before Dong's withdrawal experts had conceded him the gold medal.

Without Dong in the mix, China's best rings performer was all-around medalist Yang Wei, who scored a 9.712 to finish fourth.

 

September 25, 2000

DEFERR FARES WELL

After failing to make the cut on his best event, floor, Gervasio DeFerr bounced back on his next-best event, vault, to claim gold. The springy Spaniard trounced the competition, earning a whopping 9.712 average.

Alexei Bondarenko redeemed his Olympics with a silver medal (9.587), while Poland's Leszek Blanik claimed bronze (9.475).

'96 vault gold medalist Alexei Nemov finished out of the medals for the first time at these Games, ending up a hair behind Blanik in fourth (9.456).

Top qualifier Blaine Wilson (USA) couldn't capitalize on his anchor position, finishing sixth with a 9.362 average (trouble on his double front).

'96 Greek gold medalist Ioannis Melissanidis, who couldn't defend his floor title due to injury, also struggled, finishing 7th (9.262), while '99 world bronze medalist Dieter Rehm (Switzerland) collapsed completely for a 9.006 average and last place.

 

September 25, 2000

CHINA BEAMS

Liu Xuan took China's first Olympic beam crown with a stunning 9.825 set. Last up, Liu bumped the Russian duo of Yekaterina Lobaznyuk and Yelena Produnova to second and third, respectively (9.787 and 9.775).

'99 world beam champ Ling Jie (China) bobbled to seventh with a 9.675, while American Elise Ray also struggled with her set, earning a mere 9.387 for eighth place.

 

September 25, 2000

XIAOPENG SHINES

Li Xiaopeng claimed China's first men's gold since the team competition with his parallel bars win over world champ Lee Joo-Hyung of Korea (9.825 to 9.812).

Bronze went to Alexei Nemov of Russia (9.8), his fifth medal of these Games and the 11th Olympic medal of his career. (Nemov won six medals, more than any other athlete in any sport, at the '96 Games.)

 

September 25, 2000

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA CLAIMS SECOND GOLD

After a rough start, Yelena Zamolodchikova's Games got back on track with her second gold medal in as many days. The '99 world all-around medalist stumbled in prelims, team and all-around competition, but bounced back yesterday with a vault win and sealed her star status was a victory today on floor.

The last women's competitor of the Games, "Zamo," as she's called by fans, soared ahead of teammate Svetlana Khorkina for the win, earning a 9.85 to Khorkina's 9.812.

It wasn't everything she wanted, but Khorkina didn't leave the Sydney Games empty-ended, claiming one gold and two silvers in her second Olympics. The leggy Russian danced her way to the silver medal spot in tonight's floor finals over topnotch tumbler Simona Amanar, who settled for bronze (9.712).

Fourth went to Spain's Esther Moya (9.70), who also finished just out of the medals yesterday on vault.

All-around champ Andreea Raducan (Romania) put forth a sup-par effort for seventh (9.275) and Oz favorite Lisa Skinner, her country's last hope for a medal, stumbled into eighth with a 9.012.

 

September 25, 2000

IT'S AN EVEN DOZEN FOR NEMOV

Alexei Nemov (Russia) closed out his second Olympic appearance the same way he began his first Games -- with a gold medal. Nemov added a 12th Olympic medal to his collection (four of which are gold) on high bar, when he shared the top score with a surprised Benjamin Varonian of France (9.787 apiece). Varonian, who qualified to finals in the eighth slot, put forth a near-flawless performance to match Nemov, but didn't share a gold. The International Olympic Committee has mandated that all gymnastics medal ties be broken (tiebreaker was highest individual judges score).

Bronze went to Korea's Lee Joo-Hyung (9.775) who was fresh from a silver medals stint on p-bars (see earlier September 25 "News Flash" for details).

Surprisingly shut out of the medals was top qualifier Alexander Beresch (Ukraine) who found his 9.75 was only good enough for fifth. Vault champ Alexei Bondarenko (Russia), who replaced teammate Maxim Alyoshin, finished fourth (9.762).

 

September 25, 2000

RADUCAN TESTS POSITIVE FOR BANNED SUBSTANCE

All-around gold medalist Andreea Raducan now bears the unfortunate distinction of being the first-ever Olympic gymnast to test positive for a banned substance at the Games.

Several hours ago the International Olympic Committee (IOC) began releasing details about a gold medal-winning gymnast who had tested positive for an unnamed banned substance. Later, IOC officials revealed that Raducan had tested positive for pseudoephidrene, an IOC banned substance used to "improve athletic performance and enhance weight loss," according to an IOC release.

Romanian officials contend that Raducan came into contact with the substance through a physician-provided cold pill, prescribed for a head cold that Raducan, and many other athletes living in the Olympic village, have been struck with. Olympic committee officials argue that the substance, not banned by the International Gymnastics Federation, is a "performance diminishing, not performance enhancing" drug and that Raducan only showed a high enough dosage to test positive due to her small stature (4-10 and 82 pounds). Officials further suggest that Raducan may have unwittingly exacerbated the problem by taking an additional over-the-counter cold remedy when she failed to feel better after the first pill.

IOC drug chief Prince Alexandre de Merode is submitting an official recommendation that Raducan be stripped of her all-around gold, but be allowed to retain team gold and vault silver, based on the Romanians argument that a team doctor prescribed the medication, making Raducan's positive test "an involuntary action." de Merode is also recommending that the doctor responsible be banned from further Olympic participation. (If Raducan's gold is stripped, teammates Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru will get gold and silver, respectively, while Chinese gymnast Liu Xuan will move up to bronze medal position.)

The IOC is also reportedly dismayed that the Romanian federation allowed Raducan to compete in last night's floor finals, AFTER already being told about the positive drug test. (The information was not released to the media until hours after the competition.) Reportedly, Raducan's concern over the news led to her poor performance on floor exercise, where she is the reigning world champ.

"This case is completely irrelevant," Romanian Olympic Committee president Ion Tiriac said in a prepared statement. "This athlete is the best gymnast in the world at this time and she has proved it. She is shattered by [these] accusations."

Tiriac went on to add that he himself was taking the same prescription cold medicine, brand name Nurofen, which caused Raducan's positive test, as were many other members of the Romanian delegation, including several other athletes who have, so far, NOT tested positive.

The Romanian Olympic Committee gave notice that they would protest if ANY of Raducan's medals were taken away. They are asking that a second "B" test be taken to prove Raducan's innocence. ("B" tests are not required by the IOC.)

The IOC can use it's own discretion when deciding if Raducan gets to keep any of her three Olympic medals. Potentially, they could not only strip Raducan of her individual medals but the Romanian team of gold as well. The Romanian delegation, including Raducan, was scheduled to speak before an IOC committee following last night's event finals. Details of the meeting have yet to be released.

Head coach Octavian Belu, who skipped post-meet press conferences last night, has told a Romanian newspaper that he will withdraw his entire team from the Games in protest if Raducan loses even one of her Olympic medals.

Romanian gymnastics federation official Dana Encutescu made the team's only formal statement, saying: "Andreea Raducan is an innocent child. She is not capable of doing such a thing as doping."

Adding this unprecedented turn of events to the all-around vault snafu, the 2000 Games women's all-around will likely go down in gymnastics history as the most controversial competition ever.

 

September 25, 2000

RADUCAN LOSES GOLD

After testing positive for an International Olympic Committee banned substance (see earlier September 25 "News Flash" for details), Andreea Raducan has been dethroned as the 2000 Olympic champ.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed about an hour ago that Raducan's all-around gold medal will be stripped, in what many are calling a "compromise solution" to her positive drug test. (Traditionally, when athletes test positive for ANY banned substance they lose ALL medals, including those won with a team, and are suspended from future competitions.)

After the results of Raducan's test were made public, Romanian Olympic Committee officials argued that Raducan's post-all-around positive test resulted from a cold pill prescribed by the Romanian team doctor.

The IOC's response indicates that they accept that explanation, which the Romanian delegation argued in a conference with the IOC medical commission which lasted until the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday (Monday afternoon in the US).

Raducan tested positive for pseudoephidrene, which is on the IOC's list of banned stimulants but not the International Gymnastics Federation's. In three separate tests, one after each phase of the competition in which she medaled (team, all-around and day one event finals), Raducan tested positive only once, following the all-around. Her post-vault finals test was once again negative, according to the IOC.

The Romanian team doctor who prescribed the cold remedy for Raducan has been banned from Olympic participation until after the 2004 Games in Athens. "He has the real responsibility in this case,'' IOC official Thomas Bach told the Associated Press. "He prescribed the medication to this girl. It's a good signal to all the people surrounding the athletes that they can be punished.''

The official all-around results for the 2000 Games will now list Simona Amanar as the Olympic gold medalist, followed by teammate Maria Olaru and China's Liu Xuan. The girls are expected to receive their medals in a new ceremony before tonight's Olympic gala.

This marks the first time an Olympic gymnast has tested positive in any sort of doping control and the first time an Olympic gymnastics medal has been taken away from a competitor.

The Romanian federation has yet to issue a formal statement but head coach Octavian Belu had previously said that he would withdraw his team from the Games if Raducan's medal was taken away.

 

September 25, 2000

ROMANIANS PLAN TO TAKE IOC TO COURT

Emerging from a three-hour plus meeting with the IOC medical commission in the early morning hours of September 25, a tearful Andreea Raducan refused comment to waiting media on her positive drug test.

Though it wouldn't be made official until several hours later, Raducan had been informed that the commission was recommending that she be stripped of her all-around gold medal after testing positive for pseudoephidrene, an IOC banned substance.

Raducan, who claims that the positive post-all-around test, which showed she had more than double the IOC limit of pseudoephidrene in her blood stream, was due to a cold pill prescribed for her by the Romanian team doctor. (The unnamed physician has been expelled from the Games and forbidden from future Olympic participation through 2004.)

The IOC confirmed that the drug Raducan had in her system provided "no competitive advantage in that competition." While sympathetic, the IOC remained firm in their no tolerance doping policy.

"We have rules and we must apply those rules," IOC drug chief Prince Alexandre de Merode in an official statement. "We consider it an accident. ... She is not directly responsible. The fault lies with the medical doctor."

The IOC director general, who approved the plan to strip Raducan of all-around gold but let her maintain her team and event medals, agreed. "We're not looking at whether there's intention or not," Francois Carrard said. "It's the presence that constitutes doping. We feel we have no choice. It's tough, but that's what it's all about. In the fight against doping we have to be tough and be blind to emotions and feelings."

In the official release detailing the incident, the IOC also amended their earlier statements, saying that Raducan was tested only twice, not three times as previously reported (there was no test after team gold). The first test, after the all-around competition, was the only one which produced a positive result. The Romanians weren't informed of the positive test until yesterday afternoon, a few hours before the final day of event competition.

In what some media outlets are calling "unprecedented leniency" the IOC has recommended no competition suspension for Raducan and will even allow her to remain in the Olympic village for the duration of the Games. In similar cases, including a Russian pairs skater who tested positive for the same substance prior to last year's worlds, athletes were not only stripped of ALL medals, but also given sport suspensions.

Despite the relatively light penalty, Romanian Olympic Committee president Ioan Tiriac announced that they plan to appeal the IOC's decision to strip Raducan of gold in the Court of Arbitration of Sport. Tiriac, and the rest of the Romanian camp, declined all further comment.

Initial reports indicated the the amended all-around medal ceremony would take place before tonight's gymnastics gala. No word on whether that event is still scheduled or if Raducan's Romanian teammates, both of whom are scheduled to move up on spot on the medal stand, will attend if it does. Earlier, Romanian head coach Octavian Belu threatened withdrawal of his team if Raducan lost even one of her three Olympic medals.

 

September 26, 2000

HEARING SET FOR RADUCAN

Andreea Raducan will get her day in court. The former all-around gold medalist, who was stripped of her medal yesterday after testing positive for pseudoephidrene, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned substance (see September 25 "News Flash" for details), will go before a group of three arbitrators Wednesday in Sydney to try and reclaim her medal. This is Raducan's last hope, as the arbitration decision is final, with no recourse for appeal.

The IOC was surprise by Raducan's appeal but have indicated that, unless Raducan can question the accuracy of her positive test, there is little chance their ruling will be overturned in arbitration.

Raducan's Romanian teammates sat out last night's Olympic Gala in a show of the support for their teammate. The no-show came at a cost to the federation, who will not receive planned payment for their athletes' appearances.

Initial reports indicated an amended medal ceremony would take place at the gala but, while officially Raducan is no longer the champ, no new medal ceremony has occurred thus far.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has followed the IOC's lead by penalizing the Romanian team doctor, now identified as Ioachim Oana, who prescribed the cold pills to Raducan. The FIG has banned Oana from all FIG and European Union gymnastics events for a period of four years. (The IOC has already expelled Oana from these Games and banned him from further Olympic participation until after the 2004 Games.)

The FIG unanimously voted NOT to further sanction Raducan herself. "[Losing the gold medal] is punishment enough for an athlete who was innocent in this situation," an official FIG statement proclaimed.

The Romanian delegation has remained mum, their absence from last night's gala their only official "comment" on recent events. Even Romanian legend Nadia Comaneci has, so far, been unable to get in touch with Raducan. "I think she's probably devastated right now," Comaneci told the press. "She's a victim of a mistake of the doctor. It's not the fault of the girls."

While early media reports seemed to question the leniency of Raducan's punishment (she was allowed to keep team gold and vaulting silver), the tide seems to have turned in the press which is now questioning the wisdom of punishing an athlete for inadvertently ingesting a "caffeine-like substance" while use of steroids and other high-tech, performance-altering substances, such as Human Growth Hormone, remains undetected and unpunished.

 

September 26, 2000

USA HEADS HOME

A subdued US delegation left Sydney today. Team USA comes home empty-handed (i.e. without an Olympic medal) for the first time since 1972. Improvement will be a daunting task. Both teams will have to be rebuilt from the ground up in time for next year's world championships.

Men's head coach Peter Kormann has announced his retirement (see September 18 Sydney 2000 "Notes" for details) and the US Olympic Training Center system is in danger of disappearing, based on new US Olympic Committee guidelines which would require USA Gymnastics to pick up the tab for all expenses incurred by athletes living at the USOTC, a feat which may not be financially feasible.

Top star Blaine Wilson has already announced his intentions to leave the training center in favor of Columbus, Ohio, where he plans to finish his degree at Ohio State University. (No word yet on whether Wilson plans to train with OSU coach Miles Avery or former coach Kormann, who also resides in Columbus.) Wilson has also stated that 2001 will be his final year of competition.

For the women, their impressive fourth place finish was marred by infighting and disagreements between the athlete's personal coaches and national team coordinator Bela Karolyi (see September 22 Sydney 2000 "Notes" for details). While USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi has said he hopes Karolyi will continue as national team coordinator, the personal coaches have made it clear they would prefer Karolyi steer clear of future teams. Most at issue are the monthly preparation camps at Karolyi's Houston Texas ranch. The mandatory attendance of these camps irked coaches who felt they were being told they don't know how to train their own athletes.

"Do I think we moved from sixth to fourth because of the camps? No." Olympic coach Kelli Hill declared. "Bela has a huge amount of knowledge, and he's a great motivator, but you can't take kids coached by individual coaches and turn them over to him for the last six weeks. ... We have to get on the same page [to make it work]. I don't have any idea how that's going to happen."

"This was an interesting Games, with low points, high points and some interesting points," Colarossi said of the US effort. "We did everything we could to help the kids get ready and, after that, what happened, happened. But, overall, I think the program worked ... we put it in place and [the women] went up two spots, so it worked. And the planning for Athens starts tomorrow."

Colarossi remains in Sydney to attend the International Gymnastics Federation meetings.

Also on her way home is Jamie Dantzscher, whose Games have been a nightmare in more ways than one. After commenting harshly on Karolyi following the team competition (see September 19 Sydney 2000 "Notes" for details), Dantzscher's remaining Olympic experience was deeply marred when her father, John, and oldest sister Jennifer were involved in a serious auto accident (see September 23 Sydney 2000 "Notes" for details).

Jennifer was treated for minor injuries and released, but John suffered more serious chest and head trauma, requiring immediate emergency surgery. "He's still in intensive care but he seems to be improving," a USAG spokesman said, updating the press on John's condition.

With John's condition stabilized, the Dantzscher's encouraged their seven children, including Jamie, to return home and be "as normal as possible."

 

September 26, 2000

ROMANIANS REFUSE MEDALS

Though Octavian Belu and the Romanian Gymnastics Federation still refuses all official comment on the Andreea Raducan situation, Romanian television is reporting today that the team has returned all of their all-around medals and is refusing acceptance of the new gold and silver medals set to be awarded to Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru.

According to those television reports and subsequent Associated Press stories, Belu originally planned to keep the gold, silver and bronze all-around medals his gymnasts were awarded, but was dissuaded by Romanian Olympic Committee officials. Belu also reports that an "emotionally distraught" Raducan has announced she will give up gymnastics, effective immediately.

The Romanian Olympic Committee (ROC) will continue its appeal of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to strip Raducan of her all-around gold (see earlier September 26 "News Flash" for details). "I'm going to fight all the way for that little girl," ROC president Ioan Tiriac told the press today. "I don't think she even understands what happened to her. She doesn't get it. She said [to me], 'I didn't do anything wrong.'"

The arbitration hearing is set for later today (Wednesday) in Sydney.

Home country support has been pouring in for Raducan. On Tuesday, more than 400 students reportedly marched through the Romanian city of Craiova, demanding the IOC return Raducan's gold medal.

Even new bronze medalist Liu Xuan, China's most successful gymnast ever, spoke out in support of Raducan. "I feel very, very sorry for," Liu said. "...I think the all-around champ (Raducan) is very good. I feel very sad and sorry for her that this problem occurred. I can't make sense of it. ... In gymnastics we rely on technique to compete our moves. It's not possibly to rely on drugs or strength, you have to rely on skill.

Raducan's mother, Simona, also spoke out on her daughter's behalf, telling Prima Television: "My Andreea would never cheat," adding that her "soul had been torn apart" when she heard the news that Raducan's medal would be lost.

Also in question is for Raducan is the financial gain she would have expected from being the all-around champ. In addition to rewards from the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, which Raducan will reportedly still receive, the ROC will award each Romanian Olympic gold medalist $15,000 US and a new car, a fortune in Romania, where the average salary is $100-$200 US per month. (Before competition began the gymnastics federation announced it would match the ROC's payment.)

 

September 27, 2000

RADUCAN AWAITS DECISION

Andreea Raducan is no closer to regaining her gold medal then she was yesterday afternoon but reports indicate that she left Wednesday's arbitration hearings "looking upbeat," though still refusing to address the press. (Raducan has yet to comment on her situation to the mainstream media, making several comments through her coach and parents to select Romanian press only.)

The Court of Arbitration of Sport which heard from Raducan, her teammates Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru, coach Octavian Belu and members of the Romanian Olympic Committee (ROC) and Romanian Gymnastics Federation yesterday, is expected to rule on Raducan's case sometime Thursday afternoon (Wednesday p.m. US time).

Reports indicate that the hearing lasted almost six hours, during which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) admitted Raducan's penalty was "harsh, but necessary."

"We feel very, very sorry for this girl," IOC vice president Thomas Bach said after the meeting. "But the medical code is very clear, stating that a doping case is established as soon as a banned substance is found in the body of an athlete."

"This is one of the worst experiences I have had in my Olympic life," IOC executive board member Dr. Jacques Rogge added. "Having to strip a gold medal from the individual gymnastic champion for something that she did not intentionally do is very tough."

If the IOC's decision to strip Raducan of gold stands, Amanar and Olaru have stated that they will not accept their new all-around medals, in a symbolic gesture of support for their teammate. (Symbolic because, medals or not, Amanar and Olaru will remain the official one-two finishers at these Games.) A Romanian federation representative in Bucharest told the Boston Globe today that the medals have "not yet" been returned, as the federation is "awaiting the response" of the arbitration committee before taking further action.

"As far as I know, Simona will not accept this medal," Amanar's mother, Cristina, said on Romanian television yesterday.

The Romanian media has come out strongly in support of their fallen champ, with television and newspapers encouraging citizens to take to the streets today to show their support of Raducan. Reuters estimates that "hundreds of young Romanians" in Bucharest chanted, "We love you, Andreea. Come home where you are not alone," during one of many demonstrations across the country.

"Romanians all love gymnastics very much and Raducan is one of the best gymnasts in the world," journalist Radu Arntofi told the BBC, summing up his countryman's feelings.

Also at issue had been a government payment worth more than $15,000 US, that had been promised to Raducan for her all-around gold, then rescinded when word come the medal would be revoked. Today, Romanian Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu announced that, regardless of the arbitrators' decision, Raducan would receive a payment of $30,000 US from the "premier's reserve fund."

The ROC also announced plans to further investigate Ioachim Oana, the doctor who prescribed the cold medication which prompted Raducan's positive test. (Oana has been expelled from the Games and suspended by both the IOC and the International Gymnastics Federation through 2004.)

"He made a capital mistake with a huge impact," Mircea Cinteza, president of the Romanian physicians' said. "If [he is] found responsible he might be stripped of his right to practice."

According to one Romanian headline, Oana is now considered "Public Enemy Number One" in Romania.

In his only public statement since the positive test was revealed, Oana told the press: "Ten minutes before the [all-around] competition, Andreea was suffering from a cold and I decided to give her a Nurofen tablet without thinking of the consequences."

This comment is at odds with earlier reports from ROC president Ioan Tiriac who had previously told the press that Oana had prescribed the drug for Tiriac, Raducan and "five or six" other Romanian athletes also suffering from the flu. (The IOC also reported that Tiriac had named those other athletes who "might test positive.")

"Regardless of how this issue develops, I am happy that the gold medal will come back to Romania," Raducan's father said, summing of his feelings for Romanian television.

Despite sympathy the IOC position remains clear. "You can't leave the field of competition with a gold medal if you've tested positive," Richard Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency and an IOC board member, declared. "[Raducan] is not guilty of intentional doping ... but she tested positive and that speaks for itself."

Share your opinion on the Raducan situation in our latest "Your Take."

 

September 27, 2000

BELU RELAXES STANCE

The most recent word from the Romanian camp in Sydney is that if Andreea Raducan's gold is not reinstated (an appeal is currently pending, see earlier September 27 "News Flash" for details) teammate Simona Amanar WILL accept the all-around gold "for Romania" in a ceremony scheduled for this evening.

"She will accept only because those are the rules, not because she wins," coach Octavian Belu told an Associated Press (AP) reporter earlier today. Belu added that returning Raducan's gold medal was "the most humiliating moment of my life."

Earlier Amanar and teammate Maria Olaru, original winner of the bronze medal, vowed not to accept their new all-around medals (see September 26 "News Flash" for details). "As far as I know, Simona will not accept this medal," Amanar's mother, Cristina, said on Romanian television yesterday.

But Raducan's father, Gheorge, took a less stubborn stance. "Regardless of how this issue develops, I am happy that the gold medal will come back to Romania," he told a Romanian news program.

The Romanians have asked the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) to consider the "special circumstances" of Raducan's case -- namely that she was unaware the cold pill she took contained banned and that the substance did not enhance her all-around performance.

"It's not fair to put Andreea together with another athlete who takes steroids or hormones," beam coach Maria Bitang told the AP. "She took one pill. One stupid pill."

Raducan herself has yet to open up to the US press but was quoted on Romanian television last night as saying: "I am grateful for the support from our people. I hope these nightmare days will be over and everything will turn out well."

A decision from the CAS is expected later today.

"It's not a matter of a medal coming or going," Romanian Olympic Committee president Ioan Tiriac said upon emerging from yesterday's CAS hearing. "It's a matter of honor."

 

September 28, 2000

RADUCAN LOSES APPEAL

After deliberating for two days the Court of Arbitration of Sport has denied Andreea Raducan's appeal to have her gold medal reinstated after testing positive for pseudoephidrene, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned substance (see September 25 "News Flash" for details).

The court ruled that, despite the IOC's assurance that the doctor who prescribed the pills, not Raducan, was at fault, the rules of Games must be upheld "irrespective of whether or not the competitor intended to digest the prohibited substance. A strict liability test must be thus applied," the official court release continued, "the consequence being automatic disqualification as a matter of law in fairness to other athletes.

"The panel is aware of the impact of its decision on a fine, young, elite athlete. It finds in balancing the interest of Miss Raducan with the commitment of the Olympic movement to drug-free sport, the Anti-Doping Code must be enforced without compromise."

"If the girl had a cold," IOC director general Francois Carrard said, "there are other medical prescriptions that do no contain banned substances."

The IOC, which has said it has sympathy for Raducan's situation, had stated earlier that unless Raducan could cast doubt on the accuracy of her test, she had little hope of winning an appeal. But the Romanians had already conceded that Raducan's positive test was accurate, as a result of team doctor Ioachim Oana, who gave Nurofen, an over-the-counter cold remedy, to the teenage gymnast shortly before she competed in the all-around finals. (Oana has been expelled from the Games and suspended by both the IOC and the International Gymnastics Federation through 2004. Further action against, Oana, now considered "Public Enemy Number One" in his home country, is being considered by both the Romanian Olympic Committee and the Romanian Physicians' Association, the latter of which could suspend his license to practice medicine.)

In his only public statement since the positive test was revealed, Oana told the press: "Ten minutes before the [all-around] competition, Andreea was suffering from a cold and I decided to give her a Nurofen tablet without thinking of the consequences."

This is contrary to a statement from Romanian beam coach Maria Bitang immediately following the court's decision. "She felt bad. She went to a doctor one-and-a-half hours before the competition," Bitang reported, "and she said, 'I have a headache and my nose is starting to have problems, give me something.'"

This and other discrepancies -- 1) the Romanians contend that the Nurofen tablet was "declared" at the start of Olympic competition, which would mean the IOC overlooked it, instead of informing Oana that the medication he'd listed on his entry form contained a banned substance, which Olympic protocol demands; 2) the medication was originally said NOT to be on the International Gymnastics Federation's banned substance list, but new reports indicate it is and 3) original reports suggested the Raducan, who had more than three times the IOC-allowed limit of pseudoephidrene in her body when tested, may have "self-medicated" in addition to the doctor prescribed pill, after the first medication failed to make her feel better, a claim the Romanians now deny -- haven't altered Raducan's unwavering stance that's she is innocent.

The 16-year-old former champ, who turns 17 on Saturday, spoke for the first time of her ordeal after the court's decision was made public. "All I did was take an innocent pill," Raducan insisted. ""I don't understand why everything has turned out this way. It's not for me to judge a decision that has been made. But in my heart I am at peace. ... I'm not doping."

Romanian Olympic Committee (ROC) president Ioan Tiriac says he will tender his resignation if asked to enforce a ROC policy that forces a "ban for life" on any Romanian athlete found guilty of doping.

"Before I judge this case, I will resign," Tiriac told the press. "I could not look an athlete in the eye and say for an aspirin she should be suspended for life."

Raducan, who had previously said, through coach Octavian Belu, in what was likely a heat-of-the-moment comment, that she would "quit gymnastics, effective immediately," has changed her mind.

"Of course I'm not going to stop here," she told reporters. "I'm going to prove again to everybody that I can go even higher than I have in Sydney."

"I'm bitter. I'm disappointed," Tiriac said of the decision. "I believe the IOC fights like hell against drugs, and so do I. But sooner or later, we've got to get our house in order. We have to be consistent and human enough to understand what is a mistake."

An angry Tiriac also questioned the IOC's testing accuracy, as well as Oana's liability for a drug that was "declared before the athlete [gave] the urine sample. [Oana's] experienced," Tiriac continued, "but not really Olympic experienced, particularly with an aspirin that was only put on the Romanian market one year ago."

"The decision was not the correct decision," Romanian legend Nadia Comaneci said of the appeal's outcome. "I understand when somebody takes something to enhance their performance, that's one thing, and I understand that these Olympics are the Olympics with 'zero-tolerance' for people that tested positive, but I feel that not every case is the same. Not every sport is the same."

Comaneci confronted the press by Raducan's side and comforted her over dinner after the announcement was made. "It's difficult for me to explain to her, in her own language, that you're innocent, but you're still not going to get your medal," Comaneci concluded.

"We don't know if [she's ever recover]," a still-angry Belu told the press. "She is a child and people are looking at her like a criminal."

Raducan's teammate Simona Amanar, now the official Olympic champ, accepted her gold medal on Thursday with what she calls "a heavy heart. I told the court the medal had no meaning to me," Amanar reported, "as Andreea won it after years of hard work. I'll accept it because it belongs to Romania. But I'll know it belongs to Andreea. She's the Olympic champion."

Earlier, Amanar and teammate Maria Olaru, original winner of the bronze medal, vowed not to accept their new all-around medals (see September 26 "News Flash" for details), but they relaxed their stance after Raducan's father, Gheorge, told Romanian television that the only positive aspect of the current situation was that "the gold medal will come back to Romania."

 

September 28, 2000

OLYMPIC CHAMPS WON'T DEFEND TITLE

Spain, the reigning Olympic group champions, won't get a chance to defend their title after a disastrous qualifying competition left them tenth (last) in preliminary competition.

Leading the qualifiers is European champ Greece, who scored a 39.4 to edge world champs Russia by .034 tenths. Former world champs Belarus followed with 39.316.

"It's very satisfying because it's the first day," Greek coach Maria Fateeva said of her team's prelims win. "How you begin determines how you perform for the rest [of the meet]. Now we will try and win medals."

Originally tied with fourth-place Japan, Belarus' was incorrectly penalized .100 for an error that, when reviewed, was found not to have occurred.

Joining them in a new-life finals will be: Germany, Bulgaria, Brazil and Italy. Brazil's qualification was a surprise, to say the least. Given the "wild card" group berth, Brazil, 20th at last year's worlds, is the first-ever South American nation to make it to an Olympic group finals.

Individual qualification also began Thursday in Sydney with (no surprise) world and European champ Alina Kabayeva of Russia leading at the halfway point. "I want only gold," heavy favorite Kabayeva said in a post-qualification press conference of her Olympic goals.

Kabayeva scored a 9.916 with rope and a 9.925 with hoop to take the early lead over Belarus' Yulia Raskina (19.841 to 19.808). Individual qualification wraps up tomorrow with the top ten individuals moving on to finals. Yulia Barsukova (Russia), Eva Serrano (France), Yelena Vitrichenko (Ukraine), Edita Schaufler (Germany), Valeria Vatkina (Belarus), Tamara Yerofeeva (Ukraine), Susana Marchesi (Italy) and Evmorphia Dona (Greece) currently round out the top ten.

 

September 29, 2000

KABAYEVA LEADS QUALIFYING, AS EXPECTED

No one, not even the other athletes, feigned surprise when world and Olympic champ Alina Kabayeva (Russia) claimed the qualifying lead at the Sydney Games earlier today. In fact, the only rhythmic shocker in Sydney would be if Kabayeva did NOT claim the gold in Sunday's all-around finals.

Despite her status as the heavy favorite, Kabayeva, who says she will be "disappointed" with anything less than gold, has charmed the bevy of reporters at The Dome and Pavilions who rarely cover her sport. She refers to herself jokingly as, "my biggest rival," indicating that personal errors are all that stands between her and a gold medal, but adds that there are "very, very many good gymnasts and in sport everything is open."

Even those who mock rhythmic have admitted to being drawn in by Kabayeva's flair for performance, gracious attitude and sunny smile. The Sydney Morning Herald's (SMH) Amy De Lore, who was introduced to rhythmic at the Olympic Test Event last year, wrote: "To the untrained eye the differences in the difficulty of routines performed by the rhythmic gymnasts at Elite level are often imperceptible, but even the casual observer can see that Alina Kabayeva is something special. ... Rhythmic routines tend to become repetitive as a competition session wears on but a Kabayeva performance always offers something original."

Kabayeva's unquestionable popularity, along with strict warnings to Olympic rhythmic judges, has helped ease the controversy surrounding her sport. Plagued by bad press after the European championships, where Yelena Vitrichenko was blackballed by an unfortunate judging cadre, eight of whom were subsequently forbidden from judging the Games, rhythmic now has as chance to redeem itself, with Kabayeva's help.

The judging, which rhythmic critics often call "out of control" has been reserved, with Kabayeva netting no score higher than 9.925, though some argue that by earning that mark three times (with all but rope, where she scored a 9.916), the judges might as well be throwing the "perfect" tens Kabayeva usually receives.

Beyond Kabayeva, the rank order on day two changed little, with Yulia Raskina (Belarus), Yulia Barsukova (Russia), Eva Serrano (France), Yelena Vitrichenko (Ukraine), Valeria Vatkina (Belarus), Susana Marchesi (Italy), Tamara Yerofeeva (Ukraine) and Evmorphia Dona (Greece) also qualifying to the new-life finals on Sunday.

Germany's Edita Schaufler, who struggled with ball (9.336), was the only athlete to drop out of the top ten, allowing Spain's Almudena Cid Tostado a chance to qualify.

So far, the Games only glitch is the encroaching heat. While these "summer" Olympics, coming just a few weeks after the end of Australia's winter, started off unseasonably chilly, the second week of competition has seen the mercury rise in Sydney. Good news for most sports, but not so great for the indoor rhythmic performances, much of which must be done sans air conditioning to prevent ribbon blowouts.

"It's really hot today," Australia's Daniele LeRay, who finished a career-best 19th in qualifying, told the SMH. "It just sticks to you."

 

September 29, 2000

AMANAR RETIRES, TIRIAC RESIGNS

Simona Amanar is the new Olympic all-around champ, and she has the gold medal to prove it. But don't expect celebration from the subdued Romanian star who has said she "reluctantly" accepted the medal on the advice of teammate Andreea Raducan's father, Gheorge, who insisted that the gold should "come home to Romania," regardless of who was wearing it.

Amanar who, along with fellow medalists Maria Olaru and China's Liu Xuan. rejected a formal medal ceremony, claimed her medal quietly before leaving Sydney today. After receiving the gold, Amanar told the press that her next goal is to "create an Olympic champ by own efforts."

Amanar, who will turn 21 on October 7, plans to retire from competition "later this year" and become a coach.

Amanar, Olaru and Raducan will arrive home to a hero's welcome in Romania, where Raducan, gold medalist or not, is a major star. "I'm very tired and disappointed because I did not get the gold medal in the end," Raducan told the Associated Press just before leaving Sydney. "But I will come back and show the world again that I came clean."

Romanian Olympic Committee (ROC) president Ioan Tiriac, who has been steadfast in his defense of Raducan, has also announced his resignation (he will officially step down in "two or three weeks"), saying that he could not remain as president after personally putting in place a rule that demanded lifetime suspension of any Romanian athlete who was found guilty of doping.

While it is unlikely that this penalty will be enforced on Raducan, Tiriac says it is nonetheless "impossible" for him to remain ROC president. "Maybe the person who replaces me will be smarter than me," he told the press. "Maybe they can include some clause [in the rules] so that we don't have impossible situations such as these.

"I can not look this athlete in the eye and ban her for life, and I made the rules. I will resign."

Tiriac has maintained Raducan's innocence from the start of the proceedings and admitted he was "bitter" over the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to strip Raducan of her all-around gold. He also expressed sympathy for Dr. Ioachim Oana, the man who gave Raducan the cold pills in question.

Oana, who has volunteered his time to the Romanian Gymnastics Federation since the late 1970s, has been reviled by the Romanian press and banned by both the IOC and the International Gymnastics Federation through 2004. "I think he's a good man," Tiriac said of Oana. "But believe it; he will be a devil in our country."

The Romanians remain convinced that the IOC's decision to "make an example" of Raducan was wrong, in light of the IOC's own admission that Raducan received "no competitive benefit" from the pseudoephidrene, an over-the-counter cold pill ingredient, which cost her gold.

"I don't understand why always the little people have to suffer for the decisions of the big people," Olaru told the media after claiming her new silver medal.

Olaru's attitude reflects that of her country, which says the Raducan case might not be over yet, despite her failed appeal (see September 28 "News Flash" for details). Romania's sports minister, Crin Antonescu, told Reuters on Friday that they are considering filing a lawsuit against the "institutions and persons" who caused Raducan "moral damage."

"We plan to sue institutions and persons who crushed Andreea Raducan morally," Antonescu told Reuters. "She was done great injustice when she was stripped of her gold medal. ... Olympic officials apologized to Raducan and the Romanian Olympic Committee in Sydney, but that was half compensation. The other half is that all those responsible for what happened should answer for it."

Sympathy for Raducan has been strong worldwide, with many feeling that the gymnast was wrongly stripped of her medal for an inconsequential infraction of IOC rules.

"My whole dream in life was to come to the Olympics and maybe win a medal," Raducan said in her one press conference since the doping charge was announced. "I did that and life goes on. I just have to get over this as soon as I can."

 

September 29, 2000

DANTZSCHER'S FATHER IMPROVING

Jamie Dantzscher and her fix of her six siblings returned yesterday to California, but their homecoming was marred by the absence of their parents, John and Joyce, and eldest sister, Jennifer, who remain in Sydney.

John and Jennifer were involved in a serious auto accident when the taxi they were riding in was broadsided by a bus (see September 23 Sydney 2000 "Notes" for details). While 21-year-old Jennifer's injury's were minor (she was kept in hospital overnight for observation, diagnosed with a back sprain, then released), John sustained serious chest and head injuries.

John, who underwent immediate emergency brain surgery the night of the accident, is in "critical, but stable" condition according to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where he will remain at least another two weeks before being allowed to return home.

"It's a long road," wife Joyce told the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). "It could be a year before he's completely healed. He's stable and we're very optimistic for a good recovery."

According to the SMH, Jennifer was on her way to a party at the invitation of gymnast Dominique Moceanu and John was just along for the ride, when a municipal bus ran a red light and struck the the side of the taxi where John was sitting. "I really believe there was a reason he was in that cab," Joyce told the SMH. "Jennifer would never have survived that crash [if he wasn't there]."

Yesterday, John reportedly opened his eyes and recognized wife Joyce for the first time. A good sign that there is no permanent brain damage, according to doctors.

Jennifer is scheduled to return to the States today and Joyce insists that her family's difficulties haven't tarnished their Olympic experience. "Sydney's not a bad memory," she told the SMH. "I look at it like he's going to get better and we're going to come back here and really see Sydney."

Jamie, who was on her way to a party of her own with coaches Steve and Beth Rybacki when she received word of the accident, is not yet as "at peace" as her mother. "It's been a tough time for Jamie," Beth told the Los Angeles Times. "I hope at some point Jamie can look back at the Olympics and find the positives, but it will take awhile."

Anyone wishing to donate money for the Dantzscher's expenses can send contributions to: Team Dantzscher, PFF Bank and Trust, 165 E Bonita Ave., San Dimas, CA 91773.

 

September 30, 2000

RUSSIAN GROUP GRABS GOLD

The fans weren't the only ones at The Dome and Pavilions today who weren't sure of the winners. The judges also couldn't decide, tying Russia and Belarus for the top score, making a complicated tie-break procedure and a long wait (nearly an hour) necessary to determine the winner.

In the end, current world champs Russia topped Belarus, despite their equal scores of 39.50, while prelim leader Greece settled for bronze (39.283).

Despite the fact that the Russians were far from the fan favorites -- the crowd booed and whistled at what they thought were low scores for Greece, Japan and Bulgaria -- top team member Yelena Shalamova, who has also competed successfully as a individual star, felt her group's win was well-deserved.

"The spectators may be supporting the team that looks the best, or [that perform to] their favorite music," Shalamova said after the meet, speculating to the press about the lack of crowd support for her squad, "But maybe their routines weren't as challenging as ours."

Shalamova added that perhaps the crowd "didn't understand" the Russian's dark, edgy choreography, as evidenced by a lackluster response to their opening clubs routine, performed to music from "The Matrix," which received a tepid response from the crowd but a meet-high 19.8 score from the judges. (Unlike in individual rhythmic competition, scores, based on 20 point scale, 10 for difficulty and 10 for execution, are not halved in group.)

"Russia was instrumental in bring group [into the Games]," Russian assistant coach Valentina Ivanskaya said after the meet. "It was our dream to win." (In 1996, an unhappy Russia settled for bronze behind Spain and Bulgaria.)

Dismissing charges of favoritism, fellow assistant Tatiana Vassilyeva added: "The judging here is much more objective. The people who win really deserve to win."

The Greeks sealed their own fate by badly botching their clubs routine. Performed to Pink Floyd's "The Wall," the always popular set gave the Greek fits, but still scored with the audience, who loved their avant garde presentation. At night's end, when they discovered they'd maintained third place, the Greek group was giddy with excitement over their first podium appearance, even if it wasn't gold. (The up-and-coming team didn't qualify to the Games in '96, the first time group was contested at this level.)

Japan, a crowd favorite, fell from fourth in qualifying to fifth in finals, an unhappy drop for the rising Asians. "It seemed to me our team members were nervous in practice this morning," Japanese coach Misako Gomei explained of the group's problems (club drop, ribbon problems).

Despite the disappointing finish, Gomei, who also choreographs Japan's routines, was pleased with the impression the group left on the crowd, "You know, Japanese rhythmic gymnasts can't beat [the Eastern Europeans] in terms of body line," Gomei reflected. "We have to thrill and excite the audience with something Japanese and, considering the reactions from the spectators here, I think we are going in the right direction."

 

September 30, 2000

RADUCAN CELEBRATES 17th WITH 1,000

Dethroned gold medalist Andreea Raducan celebrated her 17th birthday (September 30) with more than a 1,000 well-wishers who turned out to greet her and her teammates as they arrived home in Bucharest, Romania today.

"It was a lovely surprise on my birthday," Raducan said of the large crowd, which came toting signs ("They stole your medal, Andreea," one read), banners and bouquets to show their support of the fallen champ.

Raducan saved her most heartfelt greeting for mother Simona, who told the press, "She is still my golden girl," while clutching her daughter tightly.

Coach Octavian Belu told the assembled media that Raducan was already "getting over" her Olympic disappointment but the bad taste of these Games was still lingering for Belu. "They are children," Belu told PRO-TV of his gymnasts, "they forgive and forget. We will NOT forgive or forget. It was a nightmare. We have five medals, but we should have six. They (the IOC) ... forgot the most cherished sentiment of the Olympics -- tolerance."

Raducan also received word that she will be given a "replacement gold" by a jeweler in Bucharest. The specially made 18 carat medal will be engraved with the words "Andreea is the everlasting Olympic champion in our hearts," according to Romanian daily Evenimentul Zilei.

At her homecoming, Raducan reaffirmed her desire to continue in the sport. "It was an innocent pill and it didn't even help me," she reiterated. "It gave me a little dizziness that impeded my performance, in fact. I am convinced that I did nothing wrong. ... I lost a medal, but in my soul I know that it was mine."

Teammate and new all-around champ Simona Amanar, who will turn 21 next week, also confirmed her decision to step aside. "It is the right moment to retire," Amanar said.