THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 5 : Karolyi Angered Gym Official in ’84, Peters Says
The penalty suffered by the United States women’s gymnastics team in compulsory competition Monday may be a personal pay-back for 1984 directed toward U.S. gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, according to former Olympic coach Don Peters.
Ellen Berger of East Germany, chairman of the International Gymnastics Federation technical committee, enforced a half-point deduction on the U.S team when Rhonda Faehn, a team alternate, failed to leave the competition platform after removing a springboard for Kelly Garrison-Steves.
In international competition, a team cannot have more than one gymnast on the competition platform. It’s an obscure rule that requires a half-point deduction. Peters also said he has never seen the rule enforced in 20 years of international competition.
By upholding the protest, filed by an East German judge who scored the uneven bar competition, Berger cost the U.S. team to drop almost a full point behind third place East Germany, going into Tuesday’s optional competition.
Peters, who did not make the trip to Seoul, contends that Berger enforced the penalty to get the U.S. team off the heels of her country. But he said Berger’s intent may have also been to gain back the prestige she lost at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, when she failed to impose a penalty on the U.S. team that would have cost Karolyi’s prize student, Mary Lou Retton, the gold medal in all-around competition. Retton won the all-around by less than a half point.
“I think if we wouldn’t have been breathing down their necks (in 1988), the penalty wouldn’t have been enforced,” said Peters, who also coached the 1984 Olympic team.
In 1984, Karolyi jumped the press barricade to greet Retton when she finished a routine on two occasions. It’s a half-point team deduction for anyone other than the 2 team coaches to be on the competition floor. Karolyi was not a team coach.
“Ellen Berger was the head of the jury and in charge of the meet in 1984, and she personally chastised Bela and warned him the first time he jumped the barricade, that first day,” Peters said. “Then she came to me after she talked to him and said, ‘Don, if he does it again, I’m going to take the deduction. Don’t let him do it again.’
“So I took Bela aside and told him not to do it again. And he said, ‘She (Burger) doesn’t have the guts to do it here with 10,000 screaming Americans.’ I gave him strict orders, and he still did it again. And he was right, she backed down.
“I think this year she is still smarting from that because he flaunted that in her face. Her prestige was wounded, but she chickened out, because it would have taken the medal away from Mary Lou here in Los Angeles. I think now she just thought the climate was right.”
Peters said the rule that the U.S. team was penalized for in Seoul is to allow the judges an unobstructed view of the gymnasts during the compulsories. However, during the optionals, a coach is allowed on the platform but cannot touch a gymnasts.