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Sydney 2000

Land of Comaneci rises again

19 September 2000

As the land of Nadia Comaneci, Romania has been linked with women's gymnastics in the common mind as closely as any country in the world for almost a quarter-century. Yet, until Tuesday night, the Romanians had been Olympic champion once- and that was tainted.

Now, the team that won at the 1984 Los Angeles Games amid a boycott by the other powerful Eastern European countries has itself a full-blown Olympic title. Capitalizing on a stunning fall by heralded Olympic and world champion Svetlana Khorkina and other falls by her Russian team-mates, the Romanians came from behind to win a title that essentially came down to who was left standing.

Simona Amanar, the 1996 Atlanta Games gold medalist in the vault who stayed simply to help the team in Sydney, was rewarded in full as she helped lead

Romania to the team gold. It finally fulfilled the Olympic potential of the team that has won world championships in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999.

Russia collected the silver medal, and China won bronze. The defending Olympic champion United States fell to fourth, but that had been expected.

"it's a big victory for Romania," coach Octavian Belu said, relishing the triumph that still will be regarded as an upset because Russia had dominated this year's European Championships and Khorkina had become the face of the sport after winning gold in the all-around, uneven bars and women's beam.

"It's a big victory for our Olympic movement, for the children in this Olympics, for the sport," Belu said. "We come from a small country. Now, this girl [Amanar] has had the chance to be on television before millions of people, and they know who she is."

In some ways, the night was eerily reminiscent of the finals at the 1999 World Championships. Russia was in position to win the team competition there, but Khorkina fell in the final rotation, allowing Romania to win.

However, her fall Tuesday night came in the uneven bars, her specialty she won at both Atlanta and the World Championships. She dropped to the floor between bars, and it clearly unnerved both her and her team. Two falls on the beam by her team-mates proved too much to overcome.

At one stage during the competition, television cameras caught Khorkina in tears on the sidelines, and the entire team looked downcast on the podium as it received the silver medals. Khorkina declined to discuss the fall afterward.

In contrast, Belu and his players and coaches hugged and kissed beside the stage when the night was won. It was a particularly special title for Amanar, the veteran who turns 21 years old next month.

"I'm happy, because it's the last big competition for me," she said through an interpreter, meaning how much she savored the title, not the end of her career. "It's very, very satisfying to be a member of this gymnastics team."

"I felt it was my duty to help the Romanian team," she said of sticking around for the Sydney Games. "I don't think of myself."

Romania had trailed after the early competition in the uneven bars, but it never let up the rest of the way. Russia and China hung close enough to maintain a chance, but Romania avoided the key mistake they needed to catch up.

"It was a stability competition," Belu said." Our stability today was better than our partners."

Still, he frequently disappeared into an adjoining room in the arena during the final stages, watching the action on television and keep track of the score on a computer. in the end, Romania finished with 154.608 points to Russia's 154.403 and china's 154.008.

The united States was well back at 152.933.

 

Ron Sutton and Michelle O'Rourke at Olympics.com

 

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