Dawes solid, minus medal 3 of last 4 gymnasts surpass her effort

Atlanta Olympics

July 29, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Dominique Dawes found redemption last night at the Georgia Dome. Then she found heartache.

Two days after a fall in her floor exercise routine cost the 19-year-old gymnast from Gaithersburg, Md., any chance at a medal in the women's all-around competition at the 1996 Olympics, Dawes came back with a solid routine on the uneven bars during the first of two nights of individual event finals.

But it wasn't enough.

Performing fourth among the eight competitors, she moved into first place with a score of 9.80. But she was passed by three of the last four competitors, including U.S. teammate Amy Chow.

Svetlana Chorkina of Russia, a two-time reigning world champion in the event, scored a 9.85 to win the gold. Chow and Bi Wenjiing of China, going last, nudged Dawes off the medals platform with scores of 9.837 to share the silver. No bronze was awarded.

Dawes could get another chance at a medal -- and an even bigger moment of redemption -- tonight.

If, as expected, she is named to replace an injured Kerri Strug in the floor exercise in tonight's portion of the event finals, Dawes will have an opportunity to soften the memory of a huge disappointment in her competitive career. Either way, she will be headed to a new life as a professional touring gymnast and full-time college student at Stanford.

Her performance last night, as well as the one tonight, likely will not erase the memories of what took place in the same building Friday night. Leading through the first two of four rotations, Dawes slipped at the end of a second tumbling pass, then stepped out of bounds with both feet as she fought to keep her balance.

With a score of 9.0, she fell from first to 20th and eventually finished 17th.

For Ioannis Melissanidis, the disappointment came when Athens was passed over as the host of the '96 Games. But Melissanidis, a former European junior gymnastics champion, turned that disappointment into pure joy last night. Not bad for a teen-ager carrying the dreams of an entire country on his broad shoulders.

In one of the biggest surprises in any sport during the Centennial Games, Melissanidis beat the three medal winners from the all-around competition to win the gold in the men's floor exercise.

He became the first Greek gymnast to win a medal in Olympic competition since Georgios Aliprantis won the rope-climbing competition at the 1906 Games in Athens.

Melissanidis, second in the 1994 world championships, is to the floor exercise what Rudy Galindo is to figure skating. His graceful, balletic and slightly unconventional routine, performed to near perfection, earned a 9.85 from the judges, a loud ovation from the sellout crowd and a victory over all-around champion Li Xiaoshuang by .013 of a point.

Russia's Alexei Nemov, who won the silver in the all-around, won the first of two bronze medals.

When Li's score was announced, there was a smattering of boos from the capacity crowd. Melissanidis immediately raised both hands in triumph, as his mother was shown celebrating in the stands. Melissanidis received his gold medal from King Constantine of Greece.

"Before I saluted the judges, I said to myself, 'I'm not in the U.S. I'm not in Atlanta. I'm in Athens,' " said Melissanidis. "I had to be perfect for Greece. I was not Ioannis Melissanidis. I was Greece."

Li Donghua's gold medal on the pommel horse wasn't a surprise, but it was heartwarming, nonetheless. At 29, Li Donghua was the oldest of all 111 male gymnasts competing at the Olympics.

He is probably the only one competing with no spleen and one kidney, the result of a serious injury while vaulting 12 years ago.

Four years later, Li Donghua was injured again after falling on his neck from the parallel bars. But he recovered from those injuries and came into the Olympics as the defending champion in the pommel horse. And Li Donghua, a former Chinese national champion on the apparatus, won the gold for Switzerland. He is married to a Swiss woman.

The other big surprise, not only of last night, but also of these Olympics, was the performance of Vitaly Scherbo. The 24-year-old from Belarus, who won six gold medals in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, had promised to make up for his inconsistencies that won him only a bronze in the all-around competition.

But Scherbo misstepped twice in his floor exercise routine and received a 9.275.

It wasn't a good night for American Shannon Miller.

Miller, subbing for Strug, over-rotated on her first vault and fell on her second to finish last. As she did after stepping off the mat during her floor exercise Friday, Miller came off the floor in tears. One of her coaches immediately came to her defense, blaming the gymnast's latest problem on the lack of turnaround time.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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