A sliver away from victory, U.S. content with silver

Final performer ekes out gold for Japan

M. Hamm: `We just wanted a medal'

Men's Gymnastics

Athens 2004

August 17, 2004|By John Jeansonne | John Jeansonne,NEWSDAY

ATHENS - With a trick one could describe as a Double Houdini with a twist, Hiroyuki Tomita executed a last-minute escape from gravity - as well as the pressure of the charging Americans - to secure the Olympic men's gymnastics team gold medal for Japan last night.

Tomita was the evening's final performer and offered the appropriate exclamation point on the wild finish. His twisting, tumbling release-and-catch move on the high bar at last settled both an intense physical contest and a mathematics test.

By the start of the sixth and final rotation, the three team medalists had made themselves known. But it was a complete jumble as to which would get gold, silver or bronze.

The Americans, early leaders in the meet, had slipped to third place after some unsteady work on the rings; Romania took over, Japan right on its heels, with reigning world champion China briefly climbing to fourth.

But the stumbling Chinese quickly faded from contention to set up Romania, the United States and Japan for successive cracks at the high bar, the three teams separated by a total of 0.125 of a point.

"I'm good at math," said Morgan Hamm, who teamed with twin brother Paul and Brett McClure on that final apparatus. "But if you get too involved in that, you don't pay enough attention to what you're doing. I just knew it was really close."

Romania's Silviu Suciu quickly opened the door a crack with an ordinary routine; then Razvan Dorin Selariu fell, a dramatic turn. "We said, `OK, guys, let's do this. Let's finish them off,' " Morgan Hamm said.

Said McClure: "We saw the Romanian guy fall on the high bar and that added a twist."

McClure led off on the high bar and did his job solidly, then Morgan Hamm posted a strong 9.762. U.S. Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi, who said he had calculated before the meet that his athletes needed to average 9.6 during the evening, "gave up trying to keep track and just started watching."

Paul Hamm then threw his signature move at the crowd and judges: In it, he flings himself backward over the bar, in a sitting position, catches it on the way down and repeats it twice more.

But on the second time over, his right wrist clipped the bar, muddled his timing and forced him to skip the third flight. That cost him a predetermined value on his score, plus a so-called "connection bonus" of three-tenths of a point.

The resulting 9.462 was good enough to carry the Americans past Romania into first place but not enough to put a safe distance between them and the Japanese, who then needed their three men to average 9.528 - challenging under the circumstances but hardly out of reach - to secure the gold.

Isao Yoneda quickly attacked with a 9.787, Takehiro Kashima got fancier for a 9.825 and Tomita topped that at 9.850. It meant a silver medal for the Americans, equaling their show at last year's world championships and sufficient to fulfill their stated ambition here.

After failing to win a medal of any color in any men's or women's event at the 2000 Olympics, the Americans were thrilled to reach the medal podium.

"We just wanted a medal," Morgan Hamm said. "Silver's great."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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