- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

THE KAROLYIS RULE — BUT NOT THEIR TEAM

Maybe U.S. gymnastics team coordinator Martha Karolyi finally can be happy.

All those months of discarding gymnasts like bad eggs have paid off — the women won a gold medal when Carly Patterson claimed the all-around title last night.

Martha Karolyi and husband Bela have been credited with much of the success in U.S. women’s gymnastics over the last decade or so. In 2000, the Olympic team was essentially hand-picked by Bela. This time his wife did the choosing.

Both times they put up teams that failed to win it all, and the Karolyis just don’t like that. The team silver the U.S. women brought home Tuesday was a highlight for most but a letdown for a couple that has claimed the U.S. would win for months.

“We made small mistakes,” said Bela Karolyi, a native Romanian who coached Nadia Comaneci to Olympic glory. “Small mistakes are to be paid for. And we paid.”

Is earning a silver medal really paying for it?

U.S. gymnasts Hollie Vise and Chellsie Memmel probably have a different definition of “paying for it.” They tied for gold on uneven bars at the 2003 world championships and helped the United States bring home team gold. But both were also tossed aside by Martha Karolyi a few weeks ago when she decided they weren’t good enough for this team.

Allyse Ishino might have a different definition, too. She finished fifth at the Olympic trials, ahead of half the women who were selected for the team. Martha Karolyi thought that was good enough only for an alternate position.

Many involved in U.S. gymnastics believe this is a fine way to do things. The 6-3-3 team format favors bringing “specialists,” making fifth- and sixth-place all-around finishers like Ishino less valuable.

Spin it any way you want. The team is decided by opinion, not performance.

And despite being the leader in the hand-picking of the team, Martha Karolyi was not completely happy with the team results.

“It’s nice to have a medal, but we were hoping for gold,” she said. “The difference tonight? The Romanians did not make mistakes.”

Actually, the difference was the Romanians were just a better team. Even without errors, the U.S. women would have had a tough time winning.

And as long as we’re playing “what If?” — what if Martha Karolyi had selected a different team? Would Vise or Memmel or Ishino have made a difference?

Bela Karolyi started talking about U.S. depth and the next Olympics when this year’s team was barely off the medals podium.

“This is a strong team here, and nobody should be ashamed,” he said. “These girls gave a courageous and strong performance. But there will be a different outcome next time. I guarantee it.”

And we guarantee the Karolyis will be there, deciding who is worth gold and who isn’t.

Jenine M. Zimmers

The Buzz

Amanda Beard (Up Arrow)

Gold medals, cover of FHM. Everyone wins!

Carly Patterson (Up Arrow)

Golden.

Courtney Kupets (Sideways Arrow)

Brave effort, but hard to win with a bad hammy.

Postcard from Athens

• McDonald’s kills dolphins and baby seals update: In the media cafeteria at the main press center, every restaurant has two separate waste receptacles — one for rubbish, the other for plastic items to be recycled. But not the Golden Arches. They take all their trash in one can. Way to love the Earth. Then again, what else would you expect from a corporation that builds an entire marketing campaign around the work of Justin Timberlake?

• Your Correspondent maintains that slipping on the pommel horse remains the unkindest of Olympic pratfalls. That said, falling on the balance beam has to come close, at least when you land square on your chest. A gymnast from England wiped out last night, and the poor girl looked shaken for the rest of the evening. Ouch.

— Patrick Hruby


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