The US women's gymnastics team blamed stadium officials Wednesday for distracting one of their athletes who went on to make crucial mistakes that destroyed their gold medal hopes.
China won its showdown with the United States after Alicia Sacramone fell off the balance beam then slipped over during the floor exercise, opening the way for the home team to post a narrow 2.375 point victory.
US team coordinator Martha Karolyi said officials at Beijing's National Indoor Stadium had disrupted Sacramone's preparations for the beam.
"First they called her name up, then they did not even put her name up even though the Chinese had finished ... (it was) totally unusual holding," she said.
"She was mentally prepared and then she had a mental break, then after not doing the job, the beam, on the floor exercise her concentration was bothered."
Karolyi insisted the world champion US team would have won gold if Sacramone had not become unsettled.
But while she was unhappy with stadium officials, she also questioned Sacramone's temperament, suggesting the gymnast was emotionally vulnerable.
"We developed her into a good competitor but originally she was not necessarily extremely easily focussed and aggressive," she said.
...Sacramone added that she lost concentration because of the delay leading into her beam performance.
"I was just really eager to do my routine and get the show on the road but they did hold me for quite some time and I guess I lost my nerve a little bit," she said.
Asked how long she could maintain focus while waiting to perform her routines, she repled: "Apparently not long enough."
Were any of the Chinese gymnasts put on hold for a comparable time?
If not, I think Team USA has a legitimate beef.
From L to R : Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Chellsie Memmel, Samantha Peszek, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan of the U.S. pose on the podium after winning the women's team artistic gymnastics silver medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake (CHINA)
You know you're good and expectations are high when winning a silver medal in the Olympics is somewhat of a disappointment.
The United States women's gymnastics team took the silver.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
One after another, the Americans nailed their routines, to be followed by the Chinese doing the same, and vice versa. They were heavyweight fighters in 100-pound bodies, trading Yurchenkos and back-handsprings on a world stage.
In the end, China made fewer mistakes and won the gold medal this morning at the Beijing Olympics. The Americans, including Chellsie Memmel of West Allis, settled for the silver.
...Memmel, 20, competed only on the uneven bars because of a sprained ankle she suffered in training five days before the opening ceremony. But she made up for her fall in team qualifications with a strong performance and scored 15.725.
Chellsie's time on the Olympic stage was brief, but she should be proud of her performance. As it turns out, her injury was far worse than a sprain.
Chellsie Memmel, the 2005 world individual all-around champion, hurt an ankle in practice after arriving in China but before the Games began, it was widely reported. She competed Wednesday only on the uneven bars.
In fact, she competed here -- known only to a few insiders -- with a broken bone.
Although some of the American women struggled, making mistakes, winning the silver medal is a tremendous achievement.
Given the injuries, the team did very well.
Given that the Chinese team is loaded with little girls, in violation of the rules, the gold medals around their necks are tarnished.
During NBC's coverage, when Bob Costas talked about the results with Bela Karolyi, the former coach noted that the Chinese outperformed the Americans and deserved the gold. However, he also noted that the Chinese were disregarding the age limits.
Karolyi has been outspoken about the Chinese team.
From the Washington Post:
Bela Karolyi, the former coach who crafted Olympic champions Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton, accused China of "dirty cheating" for fielding gymnasts he believes to be underage in the Beijing Games.
"Are we stupid or what?" Karolyi said in an interview yesterday after watching China's female gymnasts perform at the National Indoor Stadium. "They are obviously kids -- 12 or 14 [years old], max -- and you're telling the world they are 16? What arrogance!"
Karolyi dismissed the remedy proposed by the International Gymnastics Federation -- a competitor's license certifying each athlete's age according to passport data -- as meaningless.
"The passport is made by the Chinese government," Karolyi said. "They can do any kind of documents."
Instead, he argued that the only solution was to abandon the age minimum altogether and let gymnasts as young as 11 or 12 compete in international meets.
...The sport's latest controversy centers on Chinese gymnasts He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin. According to their official biographies, He is 16 and weighs 73 pounds; Jiang is 16 and weighs 71 pounds; and Yang is 15 (with a birthday Aug. 26) and 77 pounds. All but one of China's six gymnasts are listed as 15 or 16; all but one weigh less than 80 pounds.
Said Bela Karolyi: "You don't have to be a gymnastics coach -- just a good mom and dad -- to say, 'Wait a minute! I have children! I know what a child looks like at 11 years old and at 16 years old.' "
Karolyi insisted he was not criticizing China's gymnasts, but only objecting to the sport having an age requirement it cannot enforce.
More on the controversy:
The competition Wednesday was - and forever likely will be - shadowed by allegations that three of the girls on the Chinese team are under-age, allegations the Chinese have denied. The three: He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin.
Passports provided to international gymnastics officials indicate the three satisfy the rules - that each has at least turned 16 in the Olympic year. The New York Times and Associated Press recently reported, however, that other documents suggest each could be younger.
He, a dynamo on the uneven bars who might weigh all of 75 pounds, was asked at a post-competition news conference Wednesday what she did for her 15th birthday - a trick question if she wasn't even yet 15.
She was not rattled. "I was with my team," she said. "It was an ordinary day."
Martha Karolyi (Bela's wife) has consistently declined to respond directly to the age allegations revolving around the Chinese - amid repeated musings elsewhere about whether the Chinese girls - in gymnastics, they're almost always referred to as girls, infrequently as women - have even lost all their baby teeth.
On Wednesday, she would only go this far when asked if about the age allegations, "If it is true, it is unfair."
China's gymnastics team members, from left: Cheng Fei, Yang Yilin, Li Shanshan, He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan and Deng Linlin salute the crowd after winning a gold medal in the women's team final competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Wednesday, Aug 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
There's no question that the Chinese gymnasts are incredibly talented. There also seems to be serious doubts that they're the ages they claim to be.
If they are as old as they say, then they're freaks, young women in their mid-teens having the characteristics of little girls.
If you have to cheat to win, you're a loser. The gold is devalued, having been earned under false pretenses. A cloud hangs over their victory.
Team USA, for all its grit and determination, is made up of winners. The Americans overcame tremendous obstacles to accomplish what they did, including Chellsie Memmel competing with a broken ankle.
There are no clouds of suspicion over Team USA's achievement.