BARSUKOVA EARNS UPSET VICTORY
Nobody expected it. Not even Yulia Barsukova. Heavy favorite Alina Kabayeva dropped her hoop and fell out of the top spot in today's rhythmic all-around final, the last gymnastics event at the Sydney Games.
Kabayeva, the world and European champ, earned a mere 9.641 for her botched routine, leaving her languishing in third, despite two meet-high 9.95s with ball and ribbon, while teammate Barsukova, third in qualifying, slipped past Yulia Raskina (Belarus) for gold (Barsukova: 39.632; Raskina: 39.548).
Barsukova, who revealed that a coach had once told her she "wasn't Elite material," was thrilled with the surprise victory. "I can hardly believe it," she gasped. "I didn't expect I could win the Olympic gold. Of course one had hope, just in case, but I didn't really expect it. I wanted to be one of the three strongest gymnasts. That was all I expected."
Kabayeva, gracious in defeat, never lost her trademark smile, despite falling from the top spot everyone expected her to claim. "I can't understand what happened," Kabayeva said of the uncharacteristic mistake. "I just relaxed my hand. ... Honestly, I didn't think I could make such an error.
"I just carried on, regardless," she continued. "All people make mistakes. I just had to put it aside, not show it and move forward."
Fourth place Yelena Vitrichenko (Ukraine), the only returning Atlanta medalist (she earned bronze in '96), refused comment to the press after publicly questioning Kabayeva's right to a medal. (Fan favorite Vitrichenko has been openly critical of Kabayeva's scores all season; Kabayeva has refused to comment on Vitrichenko's remarks.)
Vitrichenko felt that Kabayeva, who took three large steps out of bounds to retrieve her hoop, was favored with the 9.641 she received (three steps or more usually receives a minimum .5 tenths deduction, along with additional tenths for the apparatus and gymnast going out of bounds). Kabayeva pushed Vitrichenko, who had no major errors, out of the medals by just .058 (39.466 to 39.408).
The strange scoring was just more of the same for the beleaguered Vitrichenko, whose career has taken a tumble since she left the all-powerful Derugina School. At the European Championships, Vitrichenko was "blackballed" by a hostile judging cadre, who were consequently suspended from Olympic participation. Then, the Ukrainian Federation, with whom Vitrichenko has battled, threatened to send another athlete to the Games in Vitrichenko's place. In an unprecedented move, the Ukrainian Olympic Committee and the International Gymnastics Federation stepped in to force the Ukrainian federation to use Vitrichenko and her mother, who along with coaching Vitrichenko is also a rhythmic judge, in Sydney.
ROMANIA ENTHRALLED WITH RADUCAN EPIC
The Games are over and her gold is gone, but Romania remains enthralled with their erstwhile Olympic champ, Andreea Raducan.
This weekend the diminutive darling was welcome home by more than 1,000 fans professing their undying support and given a special "replacement gold medal" by a Bucharest jeweler (see September 30 "News Flash" for details). Now, Romanian movie producers announced that they've secured the film rights to Raducan's Olympic tale.
Mediapro Pictures reportedly paid the Raducans $10,000 US for Andreea's story. Now the group is looking for foreign partners to help produce a "French or English-language" version of the gymnast's fractured Olympic fairy tale. (Raducan's Olympic dream turned into a nightmare when she tested positive for a banned substance contained in an over-the-counter cold pill and lost the all-around gold; see September 25 "News Flash" for details.)
The hardest part, according to Mediapro representative Romeo Chiriac, will be "finding an actress to play the [4-10] Raducan."
In further Raducan news, a petition is circulating around Deva, home to the Romanian women's national training center, to erect a statue of Raducan in the town. Local newspapers are promoting the effort as a way to "appropriately honor" the dethroned all-around champ.
While Raducan soaks up spirit from her supportive countrymen, new all-around champ Simona Amanar has announced her retirement (see September 29 "News Flash" for details). Though she originally indicated she would stay in the sport through this December's World Cup event, Amanar now says she intends to retire immediately. "It's important to know how and when to stop," she said upon returning to Romania . "I have decided to put an end to my activity as a sport performer."
Now that she's finished competing, Amanar plans to become a coach.
ZAMO GOES ONLINE
Double gold medalist Yelena Zamolodchikova (Russia) went online earlier today for a live, Internet chat with journalists and fans to discuss her Olympic experience.
Hosted by Russian sports paper Sport Express, the 'net chat elicited thoughts from Zamolodchikova on a variety of Olympic-related topics, ranging from Russia's "rivalry" with Team Romania ("They are my friends." Zamolodchikova insisted); wrestling superstar Alexander Karelin ("We share the same birthday" [September 19]) and her current relationship with teammate Svetlana Khorkina ("[It's] the same as before [I won floor] -- friendly").
Zamolodchikova also offered an early prediction for the 2004 Games. "I think we will perform much better," she insisted. "We shall grow up, and we shall win!"
Though she isn't ready to commit to another four years in the gym, Zamolodchikova, who turned 18 in Sydney, told reporters at the Games that she is far from finished. "I still have more opportunities in this sport," she said after winning floor gold. "I will continue to train and try and obtain even better results. I think with the new rules my scores will be even better."
HAMMS CHAT LIVE
Twin teammates Paul and Morgan Hamm will participate in an online chat today at 3:00 p.m. ET (2:00 p.m. CT), hosted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentential.
SCHWEIGERT MOVES ABROAD
After being refused an Olympic berth thanks to a controversial German Olympic Committee decision (see August 4 "News Flash" for details), German national champ Birgit Schweigert has left her homeland for England to pursue her dream of becoming an actress.
Currently, Schweigert is brushing up on her language skills and general academics at an English boarding school in preparation for taking the British "A" levels, a prerequisite for entrance to a UK university. (This summer, Schweigert passed German tests in economics -- with the help of her parents, both of whom work in this field -- and mathematics, and is now studying for her final test.)
But her academic aspirations haven't pushed aside her athletic goals. Schweigert, 18, still plans to train and compete for Germany. While in England, Schweigert is working with Russian coach Vladimir Akensov, former coach of Soviet star Olga Mostepanova, among others, and has already announced her intentions of returning to Germany to represent her club, Toyota Cologne, this fall.
CHINESE CHAMPS AWARDED NATIONAL MEDAL
China won a record 59 medals --28 of those gold -- at the Sydney Games, placing them third in the overall medal tally behind the USA (97) and Russia (88).
To celebrate their "best-ever" Olympics, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions awarded the "May 1 Labor Medal" to the 36 athletes who won gold for Team China (the 36 honorees included members of gold-medal winning teams).
Yuan Weimen, director of the State Central Administration of Sport, congratulated the gold medalists, adding that they "couldn't have won [these] honors without the support of all Chinese people for sport."
Eight of China's 59 medals, including three gold (the men's team, Liu Xuan on beam and Li Xiaopeng on p-bars), came in gymnastics, where they finished second only to Russia (15 medals) in the overall medals standings.
OLARU AND PRESACAN PACK IT IN
Romanians Claudia Presacan, who briefly retired last year but came back for the 2000 Games, and Maria Olaru, 18, have announced their retirements.
Presacan, 20, plans to stop immediately, while Olaru, the current world champ, says she'll continue through the end of this year, competing in the World Cup finals this December.
Teammate and newly crowned Olympic champ Simona Amanar, who turns 21 later this week, announced her retirement while in Sydney. While Amanar, like Olaru, originally intended to compete through the end of this year, later reports quote her as ending her career ASAP (see October 2 "News Flash" for details).
TO TOUR OR NOT TO TOUR?
That is the question for Olympians Alyssa Beckerman, Jamie Dantzscher, Kristen Maloney and Elise Ray. A decision that "to be honest, was changing almost daily over there," according to Maloney's longtime coach Donna Strauss.
All four girls had signed on to compete for NCAA programs last year (Ray with Michigan and the other three with national champ UCLA), before the tour details were set. After they become Olympians and were automatically added to the tour invite list, the gymnasts were forced to choose between paychecks and collegiate competition. (The NCAA prohibits athletes from receiving money or other material benefits from their athletic skills, so if gymnasts chose to tour they're ineligible.)
Though all four names have been on recent tour press releases, IG Online has confirmed that Beckerman and Maloney are all currently enrolled at UCLA and already on campus. (Dantzscher plans to enroll second quarter.) In fact, Maloney flew directly from Australia to California, while her parents stopped at home in Pennsylvania to pick up her things. "They're all eligible," UCLA coach Valorie Kondos announced happily. "Alyssa and Kristen don't plan on doing the tour and I think that Jamie is going to do part of it, [but only if] she can stay eligible.
"Right now they've gone off all their medication -- their anti-inflammatories, Advil and everything -- so they're [so sore] they can't even move," Kondos added with a laugh. "We have to work on getting them able to do gymnastics again!"
Though she hinted during the Games that she may forego college in favor of touring (see September 21 "Sydney Notes" for more info), national champ Elise Ray is still planning to compete for Michigan. (Ray will enroll in January.) "A lot of things have changed since I first came home," Ray told IG yesterday, "and they're still changing, but yeah, I'm going to college and I'm going to compete."
The question now is whether the NCAA will allow any of them to join certain tour stops free of charge. (There are certain legal issues involved -- including whether the gymnasts can accept airfare, hotel, etc. if they don't take paychecks.) "I'd really, really like to do it," Ray said. "Everyone has told me how much fun it is and I really love all those girls. But if I can't, I can't."
Ray and Dantzscher hope to know early next week whether they'll be permitted to take part in any of the shows, including the first, October 12 stop in Reno, Nev., which will be taped for broadcast by NBC Sports.
Regardless of whether she makes it to the tour, Ray says her Elite career is probably finished. "I don't want to say, 'No,'" she told IG when asked if she planned to continue competing internationally. "I mean, anything is possible, but right now I'd guess that [I was] done with that. With college and everything I'll have so much going on, so I just don't think it's too [likely]."
Recent reports also indicate that Ray's clubmate, '96 gold medalist and 2000 team member Dominique Dawes, has decided not to tour.
The most recently released TJ Maxx tour roster includes: Vanessa Alter, Paul &Morgan Hamm, Jessica Howard, Mila Marinova, Steve McCain, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jennifer Parilla, Lindsay Powell, John Roethlisberger, Tasha Schwikert, Sean Townsend, Ryan Weston, Morgan White, Blaine Wilson; Russians Svetlana Khorkina, Alexei Nemov and Yelena Produnova; and '96 and '00 Olympic coaches Kelli Hill, Peter Kormann and Mary Lee Tracy, alongside national team coordinator Bela Karolyi.
Tour tickets can be purchased through local Ticketmaster outlets or online at www.ticketmaster.com; five-dollar-off coupons can be obtained at participating TJ Maxx stores. For tour dates see our online calendar.
You can also see Beckerman, Maloney and Canadian star Yvonne Tousek, along with the rest of the NCAA championship UCLA team, perform in Los Angeles, on November 5 at UCLA's "Meet the Team" exhibition, held at the John Wooden Center (2:00 p.m.). Admission is free.
TRACY PUTS GAMES IN PERSPECTIVE
Though much has made in the media about the "failure" of the US teams to win a medal in Sydney, Mary Lee Tracy, originally scheduled to be the women's assistant coach, doesn't quite see it that way.
If anyone has a right to be bitter about these Games it is Tracy. Beginning the year with seven Olympic hopefuls, Tracy was left with just two contenders by trials: Alyssa Beckerman and Morgan White. White made the team outright and Beckerman was awarded the alternate position.
But things didn't go as planned. White, who injured her foot shortly before trials, didn't make it to Olympic competition, as her pain became progressively worse as training continued. Beckerman, the original alternate, was then passed over in favor of late addition Tasha Schwikert, and Tracy, who no longer had an athlete on the squad, withdrew from her assistant coach position in favor of Jamie Dantzscher's coach, Steve Rybacki.
When the women's team competition ended, the coaches and athletes publicly criticized national team coordinator Bela Karolyi (see September 22 Sydney 2000 "Notes" for details), whom they felt had too much control and received too much credit for their successes.
But Tracy, despite her Olympic hardships, sees it differently. "Bela is Romanian, his culture is different," Tracy told the Cincinnati Post. "He handled things differently than I might have handled them, but overall, I never felt like it was terrible. He didn't ask anything more of us than we would have asked of ourselves. ... We were shooting for the bronze and we came in fourth. It really wasn't as disappointing as it appeared."
White expressed similar sentiments to the Post: "I don't think the blame should be placed on anyone. I think there were a lot of frustrations. There were a lot of expectations on the girls and when it didn't happen, people made it out as if they were failures."
Though several reports indicated that Tracy had left Australia, Tracy actually stayed throughout the Games, working as spotter for NBC Sports. White, on the hand, couldn't bear to stay and watch an Olympics she was supposed to be part of.
"Morgan gave everything she had and she needed her family," Tracy told the Post of White's decision to leave before competition began. "It was like pouring salt in an open wound to stay there everyday." Though on vacation with her family while the Olympics was going on, White says she did watch the Games on TV.
Now back in the gym, training for the upcoming tour, White says her foot is feeling "really good," though she is still wearing a boot cast to protect it during the healing process. "There's no point in rushing it now," White told the Post when asked about her progress. "I just want to make sure it get the full healing effect, so it doesn't cause any problems later on."
White, who originally planned to call it quits after Sydney, has decided to stick around and make a run at 2004.
White, Tracy and clubmate Dominique Moceanu all plan to participate in the TJ Maxx tour, which begins next week (see previous "News Flash" for further tour details).
AMANAR TO PASS ON MEDAL
Tomorrow night, at a formal celebration in Bucharest, Olympic champ Simona Amanar will return the all-around gold medal to its original owner: Andreea Raducan. (Raducan was stripped of her all-around gold after testing positive for a banned substance contained in an over-the-counter cold pill.)
"It has no significance to me," Amanar said of the gold she was given. Second-place Maria Olaru will also give her silver medal back to Amanar, which leaves Olaru, who originally earned bronze, without an all-around souvenir from the Games. (China's Li Xuan was upgraded to the bronze medal position when Raducan lost the gold.)
"I think it just doesn't mean anything to them," Nadia Comaneci said. "They told me [in Sydney] that they were going to do this. Simona thinks that the gold medal is Raducan's and that's it."
Comaneci was asked to attend the formal ceremony and present Raducan with a "replacement gold" donated by a Bucharest jeweler. The specially made 18 carat medal will be engraved with the words "Andreea is the everlasting Olympic champion in our hearts." Comaneci, unable to be in Romania, will join the celebration, set to be broadcast live on Romanian television, via telephone, passing her presenter duties on to two-time Olympian Lavinia Milosovici.
As one of his final duties as Romanian Olympic Committee president (he plans to resign in protest over the Raducan issue; see September 29 "News Flash" for details) Ioan Tiriac will make a speech and present the gold medalists with their Olympic rewards: payments totally approximately $30,000 US and a new Ford car.
NATIONAL TEAM FINALIZED
Nearly three months after the US national championships came to an end, the 2001 US men's national team has finally been named.
According to new national team rules, designed specifically for the unique circumstances of an Olympic year, the six 2000 team members -- Morgan Hamm, Paul Hamm, Steve McCain, John Roethlisberger, Sean Townsend and Blaine Wilson -- each earn one year national team positions. The next three rank order athletes at trials -- Jamie Natalie, Justin Toman and Yewki Tomita -- earn short term team spots, good through the February Winter Cup. (To remain on the US national team after that they will have to re-earn their positions at the 2001 Winter Cup.)
Three final team spots (two one year positions, and one six month slot) were selected yesterday by the Men's Program Committee, based on recommendations from Olympic coach Peter Kormann, who has announced his retirement from the position of men's national team coordinator, effective at the end of this year (see September 18 Sydney 2000 "Notes" for details).
Based on Kormann's recommendations, as well as the input of the committee, Guard Young and Brett McClure, 10th and 11th, respectively, at trials, earned the remaining one year slots, with 13th place Mike Dutka taking the final, six month position.
Young, now the second assistant coach at Oklahoma, is working with '96 Olympic assistant Mark Williams, Young's junior coach. McClure has also been working out with his former mentor, Cascade Elite's Wayne Kerr, while Olympic Training staff were in Sydney. (Now that the Games are complete, McClure intends to continue training at the USOTC.)
With the impending retirement of Olympic team members McCain and Roethlisberger, both of whom have announced their intentions to call it quits, it's likely that six national team slots (McCain's and Roethlisberger's positions, along with the four short term berths) will be available at the February Cup. (The Cup venue has yet to be determined.)
Five-time national champ Wilson has announced his intentions of competing through 2001, while the rest of the 2000 team hopes to make a run at a second Games in 2004.
Already retired are trials participants Jim Foody, Jay Thornton and Trent Wells. Chris Young, who will be 28 in February, is still undecided about his future plans, while former junior national champ Raj Bhavsar is currently in his sophomore year at Ohio State.
Jason Gatson, who failed to make the trials cut, will be gunning for a national team berth at the Winter Cup. Michigan's Toman, who had ACL surgery after trials, will probably not be ready for Cup competition. Tomita, who is contemplating shoulder surgery, is also a Cup maybe. (Toman and Tomita can petition to retain their national team spots, if they can't compete.)
Olympic alternate Natalie is scheduled to lead the International Team Championships (ITC) squad next month (November 9-10 in Syracuse, N.Y), along with Guard Young, McClure, Dutka and junior national champ Todd Thornton. (The final team member will be named soon.)
The ITC event, a seniors-only match this time around, will feature men's and women's teams from the US, China and Romania. The US women's squad is still being finalized.
The men's national team will also participate in a final 2000 training camp at the USOTC in early December. The US women's team just returned from a non-Olympian national camp.
REESE'S CUP WILL FEATURE OLYMPIC CHAMPS
The 2000 edition of the annual Reese's professional competition will feature top Russian stars Alexei Nemov and Svetlana Khorkina, in their first post-Olympic competition.
Nemov, the men's all-around champ, was the most decorated athlete of the Games (all sports) winning six medals in Sydney, which brings his overall Olympic count to an even dozen. Khorkina was the only repeat gymnastics champ at the Games, winning her second straight bars crown.
Also scheduled to take part in the October 20th competition: '96 gold medalists Shannon Miller and Amy Chow, '97 national champ Vanessa Atler, five-time national champ Blaine Wilson, three-time Olympian John Roethlisberger and super twins Paul and Morgan Hamm. (Additional competitors will be announced next week.)
At the Cup, which features music, costumes and stage lighting, each athlete performs two routines (women can chose anything but vault, while men chose between floor, rings and high bar). Scores are based on style and entertainment value, and awarded by a panel of celebratory judges. (In the past, athletes have competed in "teams" of two.)
KHORKINA MEETS ROSIE
Talk show host and admitted "Olympic addict" Rosie O'Donnell finally landed her gymnastics dream guest -- Svetlana Khorkina.
O'Donnell, who has talked repeatedly on her show about the unfairness of the Olympic vault debacle, has been trying to book Khorkina ever since the unfortunate all-around incident. O'Donnell even urged her millions of viewers to phone, fax and e-mail the International Olympic Committee in an effort to get them to "redo the whole [all-around] competition." (See our September 25 Sydney "Notes" section for more details.)
Initially, O'Donnell also encouraged her viewers to inundate the US Olympic Committee (USOC), which was far from thrilled at the thousands of faxes and e-mails they received about an issue out of their control. (O'Donnell offered an on air apology and plug for the USOC website.)
Khorkina, whom O'Donnell refers to as "that Russian girl with the attitude," will appear on O'Donnell's syndicated daytime talk show (The Rosie O'Donnell Show) this Monday.