The heroics and histrionics continued in Olympic gymnastics Sunday as the U.S. women added to their medal haul, winning two silvers and a bronze, while a Russian diva stalked off the floor, bringing a bitter end to a once-glorious career.
American Annia Hatch, 26, completed a remarkable comeback by winning silver in the vault one year after tearing a knee ligament. Gaithersburg's Courtney Kupets, 17, rebounded from an equally serious injury to win bronze on the parallel bars one year after tearing her Achilles' tendon. And Terin Humphrey, 18, edged ahead of Kupets to win silver.
Meantime, Paul Hamm returned to competition for the first time since winning the disputed all-around individual gold on Wednesday. Hamm performed solidly on the floor exercise and pommel horse, but finished out of the medals in both.
Afterward he addressed the controversy that has erupted over his gold medal, which the International Gymnastics Federation ruled Saturday had been awarded by mistake.
Hamm said he felt empathy for South Korea's Yang Tae Young, who ended up with bronze after Olympic judges deprived him of 0.10 of a point because they erred in calculating the degree of difficulty of his parallel bars routine. Despite the error, the sport's governing body ruled Hamm will keep the gold medal and instead suspended the judges. Hamm said he felt the blame rested on the shoulders of South Korean coaches and officials, who failed to protest the score during the meet as is required under the rulebook.
It's still possible the International Olympic Committee could award a Yang second gold medal to quiet the controversy. Neither Hamm nor his coach support the idea.
"Absolutely not!" said Miles Avery, Hamm's coach, when asked if he thought a second gold should be awarded.
Said Hamm: "I truly believe that I am the gold medalist. Once the meet was over, it's over."
But the debate continued behind closed doors Sunday evening, as U.S. Olympic Committee board chairman Peter Ueberroth and USOC chief executive officer Jim Scherr met with officials of the South Korean Olympic delegation about the dispute. The meeting was at the South Korean's request, and nothing concrete came from it, according to USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel.
"We felt it was important to hear their point of view," Seibel said. "No decision was made. As to what action, if any, we might take, it's really premature to speculate."
For ticket holders at the Olympic Indoor Hall, the night was packed with drama. They fell silent when Russia's Svetlana Khorkina, who has dominated the sport for the last decade, fell during her signature event, the uneven bars. And they erupted in deafening cheers when Greece's Dimosthenis Tampakos delivered the performance of his life on rings to win the gold medal with a score of 9.862.
"The love of the people gave me the strength to win," Tampakos said to the shrieks of flag-waving Greeks.
Khorkina had caused a stir even before arriving at the hall, charging in the Russian daily Izvestia, according to a Reuters news report, that Thursday's women's all-around competition had been rigged to favor American Carly Patterson, who won gold. Khorkina, 25, contested she would have won gold instead of silver had she been American. "I practically did everything right, still they just set me up and fleeced me," Khorkina was quoted as saying. She also faulted judges for valuing "mechanic tumbling" -- a dig at the athletic Patterson -- over "grace, elegance and beauty," which have been her hallmarks.
But Khorkina was neither graceful nor elegant in her Olympic farewell. She wasn't tactful, either, snatching her warmup jacket and exiting with a flourish, trailing television cameramen in her wake, as Humphrey stepped up to perform the rotation's final routine. When Khorkina's name appeared on an Olympic scoreboard for the last time, it was in last place, 8.925.
She granted no interviews, walking briskly past waiting reporters. And she didn't so much turn her head when an American journalist asked if she truly felt she had been cheated out of the all-around gold.
"It shows very poor sportsmanship," said U.S. Coach Kelli Hill. "It's too bad because she, in her day, was somebody to look up to. Now I can't even do that. I've lost all respect for her."
U.S. team coordinator Martha Karolyi was shocked by the claim that the judging was biased in Patterson's favor. "If the judging was biased, it was biased to give higher scores to Khorkina just because she is a former gold medalist," Karolyi said. "Carly Patterson didn't get any tiniest help from anybody."
As for Khorkina, Karolyi said: "Those are some sour grapes, and it's not very nice. She is a very nice gymnast, but she doesn't have the strength that she had before anymore. The new generation needs room."
The individual event finals in Olympic gymnastics are held over two nights. Sunday's program consisted of the men competing on floor exercise, pommel horse and still rings. The women competed on vault and uneven bars.
Only eight athletes qualify for the finals, and the format makes for sterling entertainment, bringing together the world's best on each apparatus. The routines invariably include the most difficult and inventive skills, and they're performed by athletes at the peak of their ability, often shining as never before, knowing the spotlight is on them alone.
For Hatch, the vault competition represented the culmination of 22 years of work. A seven-time national champion in her native Cuba, Hatch was competing for the United States for the first time, having been added to the team expressly for her vaulting expertise. She earned a 9.400 for her Tsukahara after taking an extra step on the landing, but fared better with the Yurchenko double-full that sent her flipping over the vault with uncanny amplitude in a full layout position. Her final score, 9.481, was worth silver.
"It just feels like a story!" Hatch said. "It's like a really amazing story. It's so special. I feel like a star!"
Hatch's husband, who is also her coach, beamed with pride. But her parents, who live in Cuba, weren't on hand. They had missed her silver medal performance during last week's team competition because the electricity went out in their home, Hatch said. She only hoped they were able to watch her on this night.
The night was just as gratifying for Kupets. Just one year removed from surgery, she was also competing with a painful hamstring pull. Her uneven bars routine wasn't the best of her career; she caught her toe on the lower bar as she prepared for her dismount. But she kept her poise to complete it, earning a 9.6637.
"It was awesome!" Kupets said. "To actually be able to have an Olympic medal that you earned for yourself -- it's amazing!"