- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Last week's world gymnastics Championships in Indianapolis featured, in no particular order:
?A surprise coronation of two-time U.S. champion Kim Zmeskal, a 15-year-old Mary Lou Retton clone from Houston, as the finest female gymnast in the world. By taking the all-around title, the 4'7", 80-pound Zmeskal became the first U.S. woman ever to win a gold medal in that event at a world championships.
?The emergence of the U.S. women—if you can call these amazing 13-to 16-year-old sprites women—into a legitimate world power.
?A respectable fifth-place showing by the U.S. men.
?A 49th-birthday party for the Romanian-born U.S. coach, Bela Karolyi, whose gifts from his women were one gold, two silver and two bronze medals, plus appearances by Nadia Comaneci and Retton, his past Olympic champions.
?Proof positive that when it comes to judging, gymnastics is the least credible sport in the world, with ancient biases and personal grudges proudly carried forward from year to year like banners.
In the nine-day meet at the Hoosier Dome, a record-setting 52 nations competed, including South Africa, which was making its first appearance in a gymnastics world championships in 25 years, and Germany, which was competing under one flag at a worlds for the first time since 1954. Into this new world order of gymnastic frolic, Karolyi fired a salvo left over from the cold war. Asked about the judging after the women's compulsories on Sept. 9, he said, "It is a sad, sour taste watching the strong coalitions. The old blocs are still the same. The old coalition is very aggressive, very brutal. The countries work together—like Romania, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria. They create a big obstacle."
The odd thing about this pronouncement was that the U.S. women were in second place at the time, trailing only a clearly superior Soviet team. The inexperienced U.S. team—Zmeskal; Shannon Miller, 14; Betty Okino, 16; Kerri Strug, 13; Michelle Campi, 15; and Hilary Grivich, 14—was leading the vaunted Romanians and poised to do what no U.S. women's team had ever done: win a medal at the world championships.
Informed of Karolyi's criticisms, Yuri Titov, a Soviet who is president of the International Gymnastics Federation, responded, "Open your eyes. The competition here is favoring the Americans. I could prove some American girls have [been given] the wrong points." Nothing like standing behind the integrity and competence of your judges, Yuri.
On Sept. 11, during the optionals, the Soviet women, led by defending world all-around champion Svetlana Boginskaya, 18, pulled away from the rest of the held. Meanwhile the Romanians chipped away at the U.S. lead in the battle for the silver medal until the two teams were tied with one event left. "We'd been ahead the whole competition, so when they tied us, it made us a little nervous," said Zmeskal, who has been coached by Karolyi since she was six years old.