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Gymnast Khorkina Wins Three Gold Medals

August 23, 2003

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) _ American Carly Patterson had a chance to win the gold medal. She also had a big problem: The queen, Svetlana Khorkina, was one good floor routine from tumbling her way into history.

With a sizzling floor routine, the lanky Russian starlet became the first person, man or woman, to win three all-around gold medals at the World Gymnastics Championships on Friday night. Her 9.675 on floor clinched it.

Patterson, who was brilliant in the first three rotations of the evening, had a chance to surpass Khorkina moments later. But her final event, the vault, had been watered down because of a fractured elbow she endured earlier in the year. She wobbled on the landing, scored a 9.262 and won the silver _ still a satisfying evening for an American team with a growing list of stars.

Among the U.S. girls, Patterson surpassed Chellsie Memmel, whose otherwise solid night was tarnished on the balance beam, where she wobbled her way to a score of 8.875. It was the first bad routine of the week for the one-time alternate who led the banged-up women’s team to an improbable gold medal earlier in the week. Memmel tied for eighth.

But it would have been awfully difficult for anyone to defeat Khorkina on this night.

Competing in what will almost surely be her last world championships, the Russian was great on everything she touched. Her specialty is the uneven bars _ she has two moves named after her on the event _ and she didn’t disappoint.

Gliding and twisting from bar to bar, looping her long legs over and around the apparatus, Khorkina did it like nobody else. She scored a 9.662.

But the highlight was the floor exercise, where she hit tough jump combination after tough jump combination, giving the judges little to be critical of.

Of course, tumbling and jumping was only part of the presentation. Khorkina commanded the floor _ and everybody’s attention.

She was a show-woman in the broadest sense _ strutting, shaking and dancing her way through the routine. It ended with a graceful leap that left her face-down on the mat. She followed with a seductive roll onto her back and a devilish look to the side. When the drama finally ended, she stood up and blew kisses to the adoring crowd.

She received the gold medal _ the 10th she’s won in major international competition _ and her face glistened. Earlier in the week, she said this would likely be her last world championships and next year in Greece, her last Olympics.

``I hope I have contributed a lot to gymnastics, and that my name will remain in its history,″ she said last week. Undoubtedly it will.

It’s a good bet, however, that next year, she’ll have some pretty good Americans pushing her.

Patterson, the American junior all-around champion last year, had won every meet she had entered in the past year. She was still nursing the elbow at this year’s nationals, however, and didn’t compete. That, plus the strange circumstances of the week, left her a bit overlooked.

Clearly, however, she has the goods.

Her floor routine, also a hip-shaking, saucy number, received a 9.537, a score bettered only by Khorkina. She was fine on the bars and on balance beam, she did some of the hardest tricks in the world.

Her ridiculously difficult Arabian, a half twist into a front flip on the 4-inch beam, was perfect. To end the routine, she does a roundoff, back handspring into a half twist with two somersaults _ in other words, the most difficult dismount in the world.

All that gave her a .025-point lead heading into the final event, but given the competition, she basically needed Khorkina to falter to have a chance.

Patterson needed a 9.45 to win and her vault had a start value of 9.7. It meant she had to be nearly perfect, or try something harder. But her coach, Evgeny Marchenko, said there was no way they were going to change things in the middle of the competition. Her step forward on the landing was the difference. She scored a 9.262.

Finishing third was Nan Zhang, who gave China the bronze it lost in the team competition when her teammate was penalized .2 points for illegally warming up. The teammate, Ye Fan, was supposed to compete in the all-around, but was replaced by another teammate, Xin Kang. No explanation for the change was immediately given.

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