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News Guardian. Sydney Olympics: Gymnastics Russia's star turn falls from grace It was a day best forgotten for the elegant Svetlana Khorkina, as Stephen Bierley reports Special report: the Sydney Olympics Wednesday 20 September The Guardian Of the 18 Romanian, Russian, and Chinese women gymnasts who stood on the podium for the medal ceremony at the end of the artistic gymnastics team final, 14 had hair in pony-tails and looked as if they should have tucked up in bed hours earlier. Svetlana Khorkina, whose blonde hair might have been cut in a Parisian salon, stood apart, much like a super model in a school playground.
For a gymnast she is tall and, whatever the discipline, she moves with style and elegance, seemingly never hurried, always refined. Around her the tiny, explosive little girls fizz and pop. Khorkina, 21 years old, is languid, silky, perhaps a little haughty, and wonderful to watch. In she was the all-around world champion and she has been the queen of the asymmetric bars - now dumbed down to the description "uneven" - for the last four world championships, and won the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. The Russians had been expected to win the team title here, as they had done 10 times in the 11 Olympics, excluding Los Angeles which they boycotted.
Atlanta was the exception when, in front of a delirious American crowd, the United States, fourth yesterday, prevailed. But on this occasion the gold went to Romania by a fraction, with China third. Even in , when the year-old Nadia Comaneci won the all-around gold, Romania could not break the Soviet stranglehold and took silver.
They eventually won in Los Angeles, when the Soviets were missing, but were runners-up again in , and So this victory was a marvellous moment for them. As they excitedly saluted the crowd in the Superdome, Khorkina glanced sideways and bit into her lower lip. She had won silver in Atlanta behind the Americans and, in all probability, this was her last chance of a team gold.
A night to remember had become a night to forget for this gymnast who, as a year-old, appeared in something less than a leotard for the s of the Russian version of Playboy. She had taken to the floor last yesterday and scored one of the highest marks of the evening but it was not enough to erase what had earlier been the unthinkable, bordering on the impossible. Khorkina, the supreme exponent of the asymmetric bars, fell off. It was a gentle, almost stylish parting of the ways - and her limbs were never in danger - but it generated looks of complete horror from her team-mates and the coaches.
Had she not made this unbelievable error, Russia might have won gold, although the real damage was done on the beam, where both Elena Zamolodtchikova and Ekaterina Lobazniouk slipped off. Indeed it was obvious from the opening vaults, when numerous landings necessitated an extra step or two to keep balance, that the Russians were not at their best and that they might be pushed by the Chinese. The six nations in the final do not compete all at the same time, with a minimum of two, and a maximum of four, taking part during any of the eight rotations. So it was that the Romanians had finished some 50 minutes before the Russians and Chinese.
They had been uniformly excellent rather than spectacular, a trait epitomised by Maria Olaru, the current all-around world champion. But they were not to be caught. The Superdome, which stands adjacent to the main athletic stadium, is the grown-up brother of the Dome, where the basketball is being played. It can be a little confusing, not helped by the gymnastic logo which resembles the head of a baby bird begging for food at the nest.
Numerous people appeared lost and a cut-glass English female voice was heard to plead: "Please ask somebody the way, darling. This sport is made for television and its stunning close-ups and slow-motion replays. Seen from a distance there is no intimacy, and it takes some time and effort to be drawn into the unfolding drama. The Chinese, whose men had won the team title, looked straight out of the circus with their vivid red and yellow costumes, although all the women were wearing some sort of sparkle or glitter, be it on their clothes or in their hair.
By comparison the judges looked as if they had stepped out of an Australian prison drama. Not that the brown jackets and skirts could diminish the striking, high-cheekboned face of Nelli Kim, a member of the gold-winning Soviet team in the Montreal and Moscow Games, who was presiding over the floor exercises, a discipline that brought her individual Olympic gold in How she must have enjoyed Russia's last dramatic fling on the mat and empathised with Khorkina.
It was Romania's night but in the next few days of competition Khorkina could yet play a prominent, perhaps, golden role. She deserves to. Search this site. Text-only version. Send it to a friend. Olympics front Article archive.Svetlana khorkina playboy
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Svetlana Khorkina poses for the Russian edition of Playboy