Bouncing back strong, Kupets, Hatch boost U.S.

Women's Gymnastics

Athens Olympics

August 23, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - A year ago, gymnasts Courtney Kupets and Annia Hatch wondered whether injuries would prevent them from competing again. Last night, they not only competed, but they also excelled on the biggest stage of them all.

Gaithersburg's Kupets won the bronze on the uneven bars, and Hatch won the silver in the vault. Teammate Terin Humphrey took the silver in the uneven bars to give the U.S. women five medals overall with two events to go.

"I couldn't have asked for anything more," said Kupets, 18, who won a silver team medal Tuesday night. "Just to be here right now is great. It's awesome to have an Olympic medal that you earned for yourself. ... It's looking pretty nice."

At the world championships last August in Anaheim, Calif., Kupets tore an Achilles' tendon while performing the floor exercise. Surgery and rehabilitation followed, and Kupets made the squad by winning the national championships, the Olympic trials and an internal team competition.

Last night, she scored a 9.637 on the bars and was in line to win the silver until Humphrey, going last, earned a 9.662.

"It doesn't really matter," Kupets said. "Terin is a teammate, and she did an awesome job and earned every bit of it. It makes us just so excited to start raking them in. Hopefully, we'll keep that going."

Humphrey, 18, said she didn't know the scores as she began her routine, but "going last is the best draw."

Emilie Lepennec, 16, of France, finished first with a 9.687.

"I think it was a pretty awesome finish," U.S. women's coach Kelli Hill said. "We came in here tonight thinking we could win three, and three girls walk away with hardware."

Russia's Svetlana Khorkina, the two-time Olympic bars champion and self-proclaimed "Queen of Gymnastics," fell off the higher bar and finished eighth. Khorkina, 25, stalked off the gymnasium floor before Humphrey finished her routine.

In many ways, Hatch has had two comebacks. Hatch, a multiple winner of Cuba's national championship, won a bronze medal for her native country at the 1996 world championships. She moved to the United States and became a citizen in 2001, but was not allowed to compete for her adopted country until last year.

At the same competition last August at which Kupets was injured, Hatch tore an anterior cruciate ligament. She had to rewind her comeback attempt and start over.

"It made me stronger. ... Gymnastics prepared me for life. Things happen for a reason," Hatch said.

Hatch, 26, was added to the Olympic squad last month as a vault specialist for a boost in the team competition. After helping the Americans win the silver, Hatch had her own sterling moment.

"I've been 22 years waiting for this moment," said Hatch, who scored a 9.481 for her two vaults. "It feels like a story ... and I'm a star."

Romania's Monica Rosu, 17, won the vault with a 9.656.

Team coordinator Martha Karolyi praised Hatch's tenacity.

"We did not know, at that moment [of the injury], if her career was over," Karolyi said. "But she showed very strong character throughout all the rehab. We knew it wouldn't be easy. Not every person comes back from that."

Kupets is still nursing a strained thigh muscle, which hampers those movements requiring the most flexibility. But she said she'll compete tonight in the balance beam, the event that causes her the most pain.

"I'm thinking it's the last beam routine I'll have to do, so I'm just going to go for it," she said.

All-around gold medalist Carly Patterson will compete on balance beam tonight.

With the U.S. men winning the team silver and Paul Hamm winning the all-around gold, the combined team has collected seven medals, the most in a non-boycotted Olympics since 1932. In the 1984 Games, boycotted by the Soviet Union, the Americans won 16.

Although Khorkina left early, her veiled accusations that poor judging and anti-Russian bias cost her the gold medal in the individual all-around competition lingered.

Karolyi, the team coordinator, said Patterson won every point on merit, not because she received help from the judges.

"Those are sour grapes. It's not very nice," Karolyi said of Khorkina. "She's a very nice gymnast, but she doesn't have the strength she had before."

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