Sunday, October 1|
Barsukova wins rhythmic gold in an upset
ESPN.com news services
SYDNEY, Australia -- Lose your hoop, and the gold medal goes
right along with it.
Alina Kabaeva of Russia learned that the hard way Sunday,
committing an error the judges couldn't ignore. The overwhelming
favorite finished third, while Russian teammate Yulia Barsukova
performed flawlessly to win the gold medal and Yulia Raskina of
Belarus took silver.
Having already posted perfect scores of 40.000 in
competition this year, Russian Kabaeva, the world and European
champion and the sport's superstar, had looked poised to add
the Olympic title to her long list of honors.
Kabaeva was in the lead on the second rotation when she flipped
the hoop skyward, but watched it land and skid well out of bounds.
She scored a 9.641 on the routine -- well below the 9.925s she had
been scoring -- and fell in a hole she couldn't escape.
"I could not understand what happened," Kabaeva said. "I
relaxed my hand...I just didn't think I could make such an
In a sport where competitors are marked on their
flexibility, Kabaeva literally bent over backward for judges,
scratching the top of her head with her feet.
That helped the 17-year-old bounce back from her disaster
with the the hoop to score top marks of 9.950 on both the ball
She also recorded the best score with the rope but even
three-near perfect routines were still not enough to make up
the lost ground.
Thus, a rare upset in the world of rhythmic gymnastics, where
far more egregious errors have failed to cost past Olympic
champions. It could be a sign that this sport is shaping up, in the
wake of a recent scandal in which several judges were disciplined
and not allowed to work the Olympics.
The beneficiary was Barsukova, a 21-year-old who has performed
at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Her best previous finish was
third at the world championships that Kabaeva won last year.
"It's hard to
believe," Barsukova said of her victory. "I really didn't expect to win the gold. I had hoped to
win but I never thought it was possible. I just wanted to be in
the top three."
Her victory extended the eastern European domination of the
Since rhythmic gymnastics was introduced at the 1984 Los
Angeles Games, a gymnasts from Russia or the former-Soviet
Union have walked away with three of four gold medals.
Canada's Lori Fung is the only other gymnast to claim gold,
taking top spot on the podium in 1984.
The eastern European domination is even more profound at
the world championships with all the places on the podium since
1975 having been occupied by gymnasts from just four countries,
Russia, Bulgaria, Belarus and Ukraine.
Fourth place on Sunday went to Olena Vitrichenko, the 1997
world champion and a bronze medalist in Atlanta.
Vitrichenko was at the center of a scoring scandal at the
European championships earlier this year when an apparent
judging conspiracy placed her 19th in preliminaries and she
withdrew in protest.
An investigation by the International Gymnastics
Federation uncovered widespread incompetence and resulted in
eight judges being banned from working at the Sydney Olympics
while six others received one-year suspensions.
|Rhythmic gymnast Yulia Raskina of Belarus performs her silver medal winning routine in the women's individual all-around final.|