Townsend Makes an Impression
Sean Townsend didn’t think he could bear another setback, not after a fall from the high bar dropped him from first place to eighth in the men’s all-around competition at the World Gymnastics Championships last week at Ghent, Belgium.
“To come so close to your dream and not get there, that really crushed me emotionally,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out like that.”
Townsend more than redeemed himself on the final day of the competition. The 22-year-old Houston resident won a gold medal on the parallel bars and became the first U.S. man to win gold at the world meet since 1979, when Bart Conner triumphed on the parallel bars and Kurt Thomas prevailed in floor exercise. His gold medal and the men’s first team silver medal made for an impressive haul, especially since it wasn’t certain until the last minute that U.S. gymnastics officials would deem it safe enough to send the team overseas.
“It took us a while to realize we were going,” said Townsend, a member of the fifth-place U.S. men’s team at the Sydney Olympics. “They said they were going to have tight security, and they did. We had full-time security at the hotel. That helped.”
Among the men, Paul Hamm and Stephen McCain also qualified for the event finals. McCain was fourth in floor exercise and 28th in the all-around, and Hamm was seventh in the all-around.
The U.S. women won a team bronze and Katie Heenan won a bronze on the uneven bars. Tabitha Yim of Irvine was sixth in floor exercise and seventh in the all-around in her first senior world championships. Sydney Olympian Tasha Schwikert was eighth in floor exercise and fifth in the all-around, Rachel Tidd was eighth on the balance beam, Ashley Miles was eighth on the vault and Mohini Bhardwaj of UCLA was 19th in the all-around and seventh on the vault.
“I knew we had a good team, but I didn’t know if we’d be that successful because there are a lot of good teams in the world,” Townsend said. “This just puts us back in the game. We’ve been out of it for so long, people didn’t recognize what we can do. Now when we walk in the gym, people say, ‘Wow, you did it.’ People come up and recognize us.”
The judges recognized his superiority on the parallel bars, awarding him a 9.7 (out of 10). “I was on an emotional roller coaster the whole week,” he said. “It felt great to go out and nail that. I didn’t think about the outcome and I didn’t watch anybody else. I stayed in my own little zone.”
The men’s and women’s success in Ghent bodes well for 2003, when the world championships will be held in Anaheim, and for the 2004 Summer Olympics.
“I think in 2003 we’re going to have a great team, especially if we have everyone healthy,” Townsend said. “It will be great to have hometown advantage.”
Ice in the Desert
With political tensions high since Sept. 11, ice dancers Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski, who compete for Israel, expect tight protection at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Not that it will take a squadron of bodyguards to shadow the Israeli team.
“I think we are the team,” Chait said, smiling.
Chait and the ponytailed Sakhnovski, who perform their free dance to traditional Jewish folk music, were fifth at the 2000 world championships and sixth this year. They were second to Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz of Canada at Skate America and Skate Canada, the first two Grand Prix events of the season, and will compete in the Cup of Russia in St. Petersburg later this month. They recently switched coaches, from Tatiana Tarasova to Natalia Dubova, and are happy with their progress. “Hopefully we can continue to have good results,” Chait said.
Loops and Lutzes
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia, pair figure skating silver medalists at the Nagano Olympics and world champions in 1998 and 1999, withdrew from Grand Prix events in Germany and France. Berezhnaya slashed her partner’s arm while descending from a lift during a practice, cutting him and possibly causing muscle damage. Also, ice dancers Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh of Russia pulled out of this weekend’s Nations Cup event in Germany after Lobacheva hurt her knee. The U.S. team in Germany will be Angela Nikodinov, Jennifer Kirk, Tim Goebel, Michael Weiss and U.S. pairs champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman.
The U.S. Figure Skating Assn. sent Amber Corwin of Hermosa Beach to the Golden Spin competition in Zagreb, Croatia, this week as a replacement for Andrea Gardiner. A USFSA spokesman said Gardiner “was not comfortable traveling at this time.” Corwin was entered in the Karl Schaefer Memorial competition last month in Vienna but the USFSA withdrew its skaters because of safety concerns.... Skate America’s three-year stay in Colorado Springs ended with last week’s competition. It will move next season to Spokane, Wash.
Here and There
Maria Garcia of Carson and Shani Davis of Chicago defended their women’s and men’s U.S. junior short track speedskating titles last weekend in Milwaukee.
Garcia was sixth after two races but rallied by winning the 500-meter and 1,500-meter super finals and finishing second in the 1,000-meter race. Garcia and Jade Wheeler of Los Alamitos, who finished fourth overall, will go to the world junior championships in Seoul in January.
More than 100 athletes from 47 countries are expected at Utah Olympic Park in Park City Monday for training runs on the Olympic luge course. It’s the last formal opportunity to practice there before the Games, and many nations will use the training times to select their Olympic teams. None has pulled out because of security concerns, USA Luge spokesman Jon Lundin said. The U.S. team will be picked based on results in five World Cup races, starting this weekend in Calgary.
Werner Franz of Austria, the runner-up in last season’s super-G World Cup ski standings, shattered his knee and tore a tendon in a training accident. He will miss the Olympics.
After both goaltenders on the Swedish women’s national hockey team were injured during a game against Canada last week in Finland, the game was declared over and a 5-0 victory was awarded to Canada. But the Canadians were so eager to continue, they loaned backup goalie Sami Jo Small to Sweden and play resumed. The final score was 9-0, but it will go in the record books as 5-0, the score when the second goalie was hurt.
Only 92 days until the Salt Lake City Winter Games.