On the same day that Nadia Comaneci had surgery in a Texas hospital, Russia's Asian Tigress -- Nelly Kim -- captured the top prize in women's gymnastics: the World All-Around Championship.
For Kim, who took silver to Comaneci's gold at the 1976 Olympics, this was a night of subdued excellence as she scored consistent 9.85's in all four of her routines to win by a safe margin of 78.65 to 78.35 over East Germany's tiny Maxi Gnauck.
"My exercises were a bit cautious because I could not run the risk of losing the gold medal for my country," said the 22-year old Kim, a half-Russian, half-Korean athelete. "I was not performing only for myself." h
Had Comaneci been here, Kim's consistently high marks would probably not have won the Russian her first world all-around gold. But the Romanian queen of gymnasts was resting in Fort Worth's All Saints Episcopal Hospital after a 75-minute operation to drain an infection on her left hand that had swollen her wrist to twice its normal size.
The minor surgery, termed "precautionary" by the American doctor and Romanian trainer in attendance, was for an infected hair follicle between the thumb and forefinger.
Comaneci, who was given a general anesthetic, had a tube inserted in the wound overnight. A decision will be made Sunday on whether she can return to Romania with her team on Monday. Comaneci's injury should have no bearing on her fitness for the Moscow Olympics.
This was a quiet night in Torrant County Convention Center as the near-capacity crowd of 10,000 -- which had bought its tickets far in advance in hopes of seeing Comaneci -- had to settle for watching the dominance of Eastern bloc women while U.S. females floundered again.
Romania's emaciated sprite Melita Rum snatched the bronze medal in the evening's final minutes when her solid 9.8 performance on the balance beam gave her 78.325 and nudged her past Russia's Maria Filatova. Filatova had only herself to blame since she fell off the uneven bars while doing a relatively simple kip to the high bar for a final 9.4.
Kim's victory could not have been more atypical of the competition as a whole. At 22, the 5-foot-2 Kim was not only the oldest competitor, but at 104 perfectly-proportioned pounds she was more than twice the heft of some of her rivals.
While many of the Eastern Europeans teen-agers looked pinched, dour and perhaps chemically arrested in their development, Kim was vivacious, powerful and bursting with genuine smiles.
"I won because of a severe case of nerves," said the michevious Kim through an interpreter. "Mine were better.
"I was sorry to hear about Nadia's misfortune. Had she been healthy, I would love to have seen how it would have come out," Kim said.
Since the Romanian women, with almost no help from Comaneci, already upset the mighty Russians for the team title on Thrusday, the once-stung USSR was just as glad not to see Comaneci tonight.
The true victims of misfortune in these world championships have been the touted American women who took it on the chin again tonight -- placing no one higher than Leslie Pyfer in 12th place.
"Our girls have been falling off like dominos all week," said the husband of the U.S. team coach.
Perfect symbol of that disappointment was Marsha Frederick, the defending world champion in the uneven bars. Only she and Kurt Thomas have ever won gold medals for the U.S. in these championships. But tonight, in her specialty, Frederick fell off the uneven bars on the way to a woeful 8.70.
One U.S. bright spot was Suzy Kellums, who only made the team as an alternate. However, thanks to injuries, including a sore ankle that forced Kathy Johnson to withdraw tonight, Kellums not only competed but finished 19th in the world, drawing the crowd's loudest cheers of the night as reward.
The crowds here, disgruntled all week over Comaneci's injury, discovered Kim by night's end and even greeted her with a few yells of "Yeah, Nelly," during the award ceremonies.
Many a mind, however, was on Nadia. "I've waited a year to see her," grumbled one fan in the parking lot where a few scalpers and tailgate parties marked this as an event on the flatland's social status list.
Comaneci even made the local graffitti as one center wall contained the scribble, "For a good time, call 462-1212. Ask for Nadia."
Actually, Comaneci was having a fairly good time herself, postponing her surgery today until after she was able to watch the Dallas Cowboys on TV, followed by her own balance beam performance (the only 9.95 of these championships) on "Wide World of Sports."
With Comaneci absent, these championships finished with a handsome pair of Russians as men's and women's all-around champions -- the mustachioed Alexandre Ditiatin with his Popeye biceps and handstands in the rings and Kim with her model's figure and blind backflips on the balance beam.