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Sunday September 17, 2000

Gymnasts show true grit

By BEVERLEY SMITH
Globe and Mail

SYDNEY — Nobody knows just quite how the Canadian women's gymnastics team pulled it off Sunday at the Superdome.

It's not that they put themselves in a position to win a medal or anything. It was that they competed at all.

By the time, the team members showed up for game day Sunday, they were a limping, aching, hurting, earnest-eyed lot. This was supposed to be their Olympics. Everything seemed to be a shambles. Except for their hearts.

Things were so bad that Lise Leveille of Burnaby, B.C., was supposed to compete on only one apparatus Sunday in the women's qualifying round: the beam.

At the last minute, Canadian coaches told her they needed her to compete on all four apparatus, for the team's sake.

Leveille didn't flinch.

“She was just raring to go,'' said coach Carol Angela Orchard. “That's unbelievable.''

Troubles started last week during the only practice on actual competition equipment that gymnasts are allowed. It's called podium training.

Suddenly, all the plans and the hopes of the team went down the drain when the team members suffered injury after injury. First, Emilie Fournier of Iberville, Que., tore some ligaments in her leg and suffered some small chip fractures of her ankle during the podium practice. The injury was so severe, that Fournier was sent home, and spare Crystal Gilmore of Scarborough, Ont. stepped in to take her place.

Then team star Yvonne Tousek of Cambridge, Ont., jammed an ankle, very badly, during practice on the floor that day, too. She competed yesterday with both ankles taped.

Michelle Conway of Scarborough, Ont., also tore the meniscus in her left knee during a practice vault at the podium practice. It swelled to an immense size: the team had her get an MRI on Friday.

“I wasn't even sure I was going to be able to compete,'' she said. “The knee was so swollen that I couldn't bend it at one point.”

Orchard said there was little doubt that Conway and Tousek were going to compete, if doctors allowed them to. As it was, Conway had to withdraw from the beam routine, and when she did, it was a heartbreaker.

She has an unusual move that she could have had named after her if she could have shown it off at a world championship or Olympics. Conway had to scale down some moves, but she was determined.

She was supposed to do a Yurtchenko 1 1/2 vault, but she did only a half rotation. She did vault because she felt she owed it to the team.

 

“Yvonne was much more sore than I am, and she did vault, so I had to do vault,'' she said.

 

She got a 9.143 for her pains. Julie Beaulieu of Montreal also competed hurt. Head coach Andrei Rodionenko shook his head sadly.

“It was the very hard floor,'' he said. “(Gymnastics) floors in Australia and New Zealand are like a stone. We couldn't use the floor. We didn't do floor for one week.''

The injured athletes didn't train the two days before the qualifying event. Rodionenko already felt as if he was behind the eight-ball coming to the Olympics.

There is no money to send Canadian gymnasts to major international competitions. While European gymnasts will compete at five to seven major international events in a season, the Canadian women competed in no more than one since the world championships last year, he said.

“We've been training our whole lives for these five minutes of performance,'' Tousek said. ”I was happy with our performances under the conditions we had today. Hoefully, I can make the all-around final, and compete when it comes around.''

Tousek managed a 9.662 on the uneven bars, even with a painful hop on the landing. Gilmore, who had to fill in for Conway on the balance beam, got a 9.437. Somehow, Tousek stuck her dismount from the beam beautifully, getting a 9.537. When Tousek competed on the floor, the rest of her teammates yelled wildly from the side.

“The coaches felt our pain and they knew what we were going through,'' Tousek said. “It's an emotional time for us. We didn't know how we were going to pull it out today with so many things going against us.''

reprinted with permission

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