USA gymnasts receive Olympic medals 10 years later

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2010; 12:12 AM

The celebration came 10 years late. So did the Olympic bronze medals. The flowers, the formal presentation, the recognition and warm reception in Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday night - none of it occurred on schedule.

In the decade since the U.S. gymnastics team finished in fourth place at the Summer Games in Sydney, the six team members grew up. They got degrees, careers, boyfriends and husbands. They encroached on, or sailed by, age 30.

Silver Spring's Dominique Dawes, the team's one-time veteran, performed on Broadway and received a Presidential appointment. Columbia's Elise Ray, the squad's former star, headlined Las Vegas shows and went into coaching.

It wasn't until this past April - when the International Olympic Committee disqualified the third-place Chinese because of an underage competitor - that they learned they would finally receive the medals they failed to bring back a decade earlier.

Before the start of competition at this year's U.S. championships Wednesday, IOC member Anita DeFrantz hung the newly minted proof around each of their necks. And then tears flowed as if the old teammates had gone back in time.

"It was very joyous," said Ray, who now resides in Baltimore and coaches with a club team. "It felt like a little bit of redemption because of all that we've gone through. . . .After Sydney, I think all of us moved on very quickly to do other things because we looked at [the experience] as kind of a disappointment. All of us were kind of heartbroken because we felt we hadn't achieved what we knew we were capable of achieving."

Hearts were mended Wednesday. After receiving her medal, Dawes walked over to her longtime coach Kelli Hill, who had coached the 2000 team, and gave her the medal - Dawes's fourth from the Olympic Games.

"I would not have accomplished one thing in the sport of gymnastics without her assistance," said Dawes, who was recently named co-chair of the President's Council on Fitness. "I wanted to make sure she [felt] appreciated."

Hill attempted to decline the medal, Dawes said, and then, like everyone else at that point, shed tears.

"Almost all of us were crying," Dawes said. "It was just a special moment."

Dawes, 33; Ray, 28; Hollywood stunt double Tasha Schwikert, 25; pediatrician Amy Chow, 32; club coach Jamie Dantzscher, 28; and preschool teacher Kristin Maloney, 29; then piled gleefully onto a bus parked outside the Hartford arena that is the site of this year's U.S. gymnastics championships.

They headed to New York for a Thursday morning appearance on NBC's "Today Show."

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