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U.S. Women Win Gold at Gymnastics Worlds

August 21, 2003

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) _ They literally needed Scotch tape to get through the meet.

No matter. The sick, hurting, disheveled American women won the gold medal at the World Gymnastics Championships.

They set aside their troubles Wednesday night, 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 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, which waits for no one, lit up. Hurriedly, a photo marshal on the floor 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 these gals a major boost as they head into the Athens Olympics next year.

The United States 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 United States.

And boy did the Americans come in short-handed.

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.

Now, they have a bunch.

Start with Memmel, a 10th-place finisher at nationals who on Wednesday didn’t post a score lower than the 9.275 she made on vault, the first jump of the night. She won the Pan American Games last month and was supposed to spend the rest of the summer relaxing at home. Instead, she could legitimately be the best female still tumbling in the country; she’ll have another chance to shine in the all-around competition Friday.

Vise, meanwhile, overcame her spill on bars with a beautiful balance beam routine, one of three the Americans put on 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. Sound hard? Think circus acrobat meets Gumby.

Carly Patterson was at her saucy best, closing the night on floor exercise with a high-flying, hip-shaking strut through the gym that left the crowd of 10,120 and her teammates shouting ``U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.″

Watching it all from the stands was national team coordinator Martha Karoyli, who was expected to contend for gold this year, but wouldn’t have been blamed had she not come through, given the events of the past week.

Sitting with the VIPs was Karolyi’s husband, Bela, the director emeritus of this program, who high-fived, high-tenned, bear-hugged and back-slapped everyone he could get his hands on _ ensuring the injured gymnasts aren’t the only ones who will be sore. Finishing second was Romania, the defending world and Olympic champions whose young team will certainly get better before next year. The biggest disappointment was Russia, one of the favorites this week. Svetlana Khorkina was good, but her teammates fell all over the place all evening.

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