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  September 21, 2000

Mismeasured vault foils some gymnasts

By BEVERLEY SMITH
Globe and Mail Update

Sydney, Australia — A mismeasured vault destroyed some Olympic dreams at the women's all-around individual final in artistic gymanstics on Thursday night.

The vault had been set five centimetres too low, but officials didn't do anything about it until after half of the athletes had competed on it. Canadian gymnast Kate Richardson of Coquitlam, B.C., said a mismeasured height can throw a gymnast's timing off.

"It's like going upstairs without your glasses on," said Canadian coach Elvira Saadi.

It can also be dangerous. British gymnast Annika Reeder crumpled to the mat after her vault and had to be carried out. She withdrew.

But the marvellous Svetlana Khorkina of Russia took one of the hardest emotional hits. On her warmup for the vault, she crashed again and again. People raised eyebrows. Khorkina has a move on the vault named after her.

On her first competition run, Khorkina crashed, falling to her knees and practically landing on her face. The large crowd gasped. Khorkina got a 9.025. It was unthinkable. Her second attempt was better, but she ended up with an average score of only 9.343.

Khorkina's next routine was the uneven bars, her special event. On this apparatus, she has two moves named after her. But Thursday night, Khorkina could already feel her dream slipping away, and she fell off the bars. This got her a 9.012. She left the floor in tears. "She was so upset about the vault, that she could not concentrate on the bars," Saadi said.

Khorkina ended up finishing only 11th.

"That's something that shouldn't happen at the Olympic Games," Canadian gymnast Yvonne Tousek of Cambridge, Ont., said. "You train your whole life for this."

Andrea Raducan of Romania did attempt the vault a second time, getting a 9.706, and ended up winning the individual all-around gold medal. Simona Amanar of Romania, who was among the rotation of gymnasts who did not jump the mismeasured vault, won silver. Maria Olaru wasn't affected either. She got a 9.656 on the vault and a bronze medal. The two Canadians who competed in the event, Richardson and Tousek, also were not affected by the vault. But both had injuries.

Tousek's injuries are well-known. She has chronic problems in her ankles, and now that the Olympics are over, she is set to have surgery. She put the operation off because a six-week recovery period would have hampered her Olympic preparation.

As it was, Tousek jammed her ankle while practising in Australia, and admitted last night: "They're killing me right now."

She finished 34th of 36.

"I'm happy that I was able to finish the event," she said. "It didn't go the way I wanted it to."

The Olympic Games is the end of the elite road for Tousek, who will attend the University of California at Los Angeles next year on an athletic scholarship. Tears welled up in her eyes when Saadi put her arm around her and told her she was still very proud of her. "Life is not finished yet," Saadi said.

Richardson, who is all of 16, is really only beginner at the sport's elite level. Last night she gave an excellent account of herself, finishing 16th, but she, too, was ailing. She hadn't trained vault for three days because she was suffering tendinitis in her Achilles' tendon for the past three weeks. The ankle swelled badly.

Richardson was brilliant on the uneven bars, scoring a 9.662, her best mark.

reprinted with permission

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