Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 24 News List

American women grab gold

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS The star of the show was alternate Chellsie Memmel, who is 8-for-8 on routines in preliminaries and finals

AP , ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA

The US team waves from the podium after winning the gold medal at the women's team final at the World Championships Artistic Gymnastics competition at the Anaheim Pond in Anaheim, California, Wednesday. From left to right are Carly Patterson, Terin Humphrey, Chellsie Memmel, Hollie Vise and Tasha Schwikert. Romania won the silver, Australia the bronze and China finished in fourth place.

PHOTO: AFP

The American women put aside their injuries and fatigue Wednesday to claim the gold medal at the World Gymnastics Championships.

They outclassing the Romanians, who took silver, the Australians, who took bronze, and everyone else in the team finals after a week of disarray resulting from an injury spate that sidelined half their gymnasts.

The Chinese women were docked .2 points, costing them the bronze medal, because an athlete warmed up on the podium before judges cleared her to step onto it.

Fan Ye, the last of China's three gymnasts on the balance beam, was waiting for teammate Zhang Nan's score to be posted when she started practicing two jumps from her routine.

A gymnast is allowed to stretch and get loose before an event, but can't practice on the podium.

The .2 points dropped the Chinese to 110.259 points, leaving them .076 behind Australia, which won its first team medal at worlds.

The star of the show was Chellsie Memmel, the alternate pressed into service late last week, who is now 8-for-8 on routines in the team prelims and finals. She was clutch. But the moment that best symbolized America's harrowing week belonged to Hollie Vise.

Stepping onto the podium for her uneven-bars routine, the 15-year-old Texan suddenly realized her participant number wasn't on the back of her leotard -- an unfathomable error that costs an automatic .2 points if not corrected before the start of the event. Her coaches and teammates scrambled, but nobody could find it.

The start sign lit up and a photo marshal on the floor hurriedly grabbed a spare piece of paper, used a black magic marker to write Vise's "419" on it and handed it to the coaches, who quickly Scotch-taped it to her back and pushed her toward the apparatus.

Rushed to start, Vise fell. She scored an 8.875 and the Americans' chances seemed doomed.

As it turned out, though, that was their only busted routine of the night. The margin between first and second was 1.74 points. The gold was the first for any American team at worlds -- men or women -- and it gave the women a major boost as they head into the Athens Olympics next year.

The US took advantage of a relatively new format, being implemented at this year's worlds, in which only three gymnasts go in each event and all three scores count. It brings the already intense pressure to a boil, but it can be a great help to short-handed teams like the US.

The meet began with the loss of reigning world beam champion Ashley Postell, who got a bad case of stomach flu, and continued with the loss of vault specialist Annia Hatch, who blew out her knee in practice. On Tuesday it got worse when reigning national champion Courtney Kupets tore her Achilles' tendon in practice. That was three of six athletes, a loss that left the Americans without a single world champion on the active roster.

Vise, meanwhile, overcame her spill on bars with a beautiful balance beam routine, one of three the Americans put on the toughest event on the floor. In one of the most unique moves in the sport, Vise opened by laying her shoulders down on the 4-inch slab, pulling her legs up and over her head, then arching one leg back so her toes are resting on her other thigh.

"Everyone made little mistakes tonight," said Vise's coach, Yevgeny Marchenko. "We just had one. I think that's why we won."

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