Romania is real deal, expect Sofronie to win tonight's competition
Posted: Thursday August 19, 2004 10:26AM; Updated: Thursday August 19, 2004 11:07AM
SI.com checked in with Sports Illustrated senior writer E.M. Swift for his thoughts on tonight's women's gymnastics all-around final.
The American press doesn't scout the opposition very well and that jumped up and bit us all in the team final: The Romanians are for real. I was talking to [former U.S. gymnast] Dominique Moceanu yesterday, and she told me she really likes Romania's Oana Ban. She reminds Moceanu of herself when she was competing. She's small and a cute, bouncy thing.
I like Romania's Daniela Sofronie. If I handicapped the field tonight, she would be the favorite. She has a much better floor routine than either of the Americans. Sofronie is the one to beat.
Carly Patterson should be solid -- she's not a spectacular gymnast, but I don't expect her to beat herself. What happened earlier this week on the uneven bars was an aberration. The uneven bars are a good event for her, and she should be clean tonight. That's one area where the U.S. has an advantage over Romania. But on the vault, the U.S. men and women are weak. That might be an area where Carly struggles.
As for Courtney Kupets, they've kept her injured leg under wraps, no pun intended. We don't know how severe it is, but supposedly, it's getting better. She showed no sign of it in the first round of the team preliminaries, but the coaches suddenly pulled her out of the beam event in the team finals, which is an event that seems less stressful than the floor exercise. If she's healthy, she is every bit as good as Patterson, and she could easily medal tonight.
Svetlana Khorkina looks physically hungry. Somebody ought to give her a sandwich because she has definitely lost weight since the last Olympics. She has been fantastic for the sport, but I don't expect her to win tonight.
The way Paul Hamm won surprised me, but I expected him to win. He was the favorite. He doesn't choke under pressure, and he never has. He's a big-game player with an even-keeled mentality which served him well after what he thought was a fatal mistake on the vault. He didn't think he could come back, but there was a slight chance, and he took advantage of it. He's a very deserving champion.
Silver medals for U.S. men and women
The women have always been a power minus an occasional lapse. They seemed to go on a one-year hiatus when the Karolyis left the program, and in 2000, the U.S. women were shut out. Now Martha Karolyi is back, and they're strong again.
The men have never been a powerhouse, with the exception of the '84 team. Outside of the Los Angeles Olympics, they've never medaled in a team competition and rarely individually. Paul Hamm's all-around title and the team's silver medal is a huge boost for a struggling and almost dead collegiate sport. There are only 19 college programs left, and even though that's not a traditional base for Olympians, it is a reason to compete for youngsters who dream of getting scholarships. Title IX has ravaged men's gymnastics programs. This year's results will probably not reverse things on the college level, but for all those club programs where girls used to outnumber boys 10 to 1, I predict a change.