Athletes Around the World Compete at the XXVIII Summer Olympic Games
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JEFFREY BROWN: First, some stunning victories in gymnastics. Last night, it was 16-year old Carly Patterson, who won the women’s all-around competition, the first time a U.S. woman has won gold in the sport’s premier event since Mary Lou Retton in 1984.
Women gymnasts perform in four events. Patterson moved into first place with her routine on the beam, and then held on for victory with a floor exercise that featured perfect tumbling passes and landings.
A day earlier, Paul Hamm pulled out an unlikely gold medal victory, falling badly in his vault, but coming back for a win by the smallest of margins. Hamm is the first American man to win gold in the men’s individual all-around competition.
And joining me now is Muriel Grossfeld.
A three-time Olympian in gymnastics in the 1956, ’60, and ’64 games, she currently serves as a coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Ms. Grossfeld, welcome. Is the success of Paul Hamm and Carly Patterson a big surprise to you in those of you in the gymnastics world?
MURIEL GROSSFELD: Not a surprise but it’s amazing they could both win within the same Olympics. In the past, the Soviets have done that, but I think for those of us who have been in the sport it’s a dream come true. A dream, ambition and yes it was a surprise but we knew that both of them were fully good enough to do it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, it occurs to me that every four years the gymnasts get this limelight but most of us don’t know what happens in all those years in between. What does it take for these gymnasts to reach this level?
MURIEL GROSSFELD: Most of them… I’ve known Carly, for example, since she was on our tops national team. Our tops national team are little children nine, ten, eleven years old who get to work with the national staff.
So I’ve known her since then time and probably since she was nine or ten years old she’s worked out two times a day, six days a week.
Morning training is usually something like 8:00 to 12:00. Some gyms have to do it before school, so Kupets would do it at 5:45 A.M. and then they have a break in the afternoon and everybody comes back and trains again — probably something like 3:30 or 4:00 to 7:00, 7:30.
JEFFREY BROWN: She’s 16, so this is much of her life.
MURIEL GROSSFELD: She’s done this, to my knowledge, at least, for eight years.
JEFFREY BROWN: So when, say, Paul Hamm went out to do the high bars with everything on the line it’s something that he’s done countless times, I suppose, but never quite in circumstances like this.
MURIEL GROSSFELD: Well, the good thing about it is that on parallel bars and especially on high bar, gymnastics is about what you do and Paul has all of the difficulty he needs and more. But it’s also how you do it.
And on high bar, it was so special because when he needed to do a routine that was… that you could say every single skill was as good as you have ever seen anybody ever do it, he was able to do that with inspiration. But it was a routine of a lifetime.
JEFFREY BROWN: Have you ever seen anything like what happened to him, falling, I mean, and then coming back to a victory like that?
MURIEL GROSSFELD: I have seen it when it wasn’t kosher. Back in the old days….
JEFFREY BROWN: What does that mean?
MURIEL GROSSFELD: My first Olympic games I… even though I was a little 15-year-old, I swear I saw the Russian coach tap the girl over the horse so she could beat the Hungarians. I’ve seen in the strange circumstances.
This was a legitimate victory and it was just incredible and it was incredible that he was so well prepared to believe that he could… there was a reason to do his best on the last two events.
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s interesting that you raise the question of kosher circumstances. I just want to ask about the scoring, because a lot of us don’t understand it. How subjective is it when the judges are scoring.
I understand you’ve been a judge.
MURIEL GROSSFELD: Yes, and I am a judge. I judged the 2000 Olympic Games and I’ve judged world championships.
JEFFREY BROWN: How subjective is it?
MURIEL GROSSFELD: If became any less subjective, we would lose a lot of the artistry we have in the sport. There’s been a strong effort to… when you are a judge, you memorize all of the skills and then you have specific deductions, although television didn’t inform you quite accurately, for example, the lines in the vault.
If you land on the line, there is a deduction. If you land a step on the line, there isn’t, except for the step. So those are very specific and the problem is that when they go to see if the judges are doing a good job or not, they look at the average score and they look at the experts. And that’s supposing that those are correct.
I feel as a judge, because I’m a coach, I see things differently than many of the other judges. I would like them to look at a film and say “Muriel, you were right or you were wrong.” Not to say that the group as a group is right, because it is politically influenced.
JEFFREY BROWN: Did the U.S. as a community– I mean as an athletic community– have to do something special to create the success that they’ve had this time around?
MURIEL GROSSFELD: Absolutely. In my day, I knew… I would have tried out for one more Olympic team. I was better in ’68 than I was in ’64 but I was a coach of the ’68 team. And the reason I chose to do that was I knew I would go another four years and by the time I got there, nothing would happen.
You need judges, you need training camps, you know that we do not centralize train like the Romanians. The boys have got a little better deal in some ways. They’ve got three or four training centers with excellent coaches. They train together. The girls come together each month starting in January and before every major competition and that is really important, this being together. Each gymnast makes the other gymnast better.
And also, it’s this learning to work together, also having a national style, a team look. All of these things are really important. And we have only been able to succeed in America when we have trained together enough that we look like a unit.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you briefly, with these victories by Hamm and Patterson, do you expect that it translates into thousands of American young boys and girls flooding into gyms?
MURIEL GROSSFELD: I hope so. I know lots of kids who say “gee I was watching Nadia or gee I was watching Olga or gee I saw Mary Lou Retton and now I’m here.” And I meet them all the time at the training camps and I hopes the inspiring everybody to want to do it.
I did gymnastics before you could earn any money or before they gave college scholarships and I did it for about 30 years of my life and I still to this day enjoy getting on a balance beam and doing a turn. It’s a wonderful feeling to do the sport.
JEFFREY BROWN: Muriel Grossfeld, thank you very much.
MURIEL GROSSFELD: You’re welcome.
JEFFREY BROWN: And now to Athens. Brian, welcome back. When we talked on Monday, there was a bit of disappointment in the air over the performance… the loss tae that day of Michael Phelps. I guess at week’s end, there’s no more disappointment.
BRIAN CAZENEUVE: He was terrific. Today he won the 100 meter butterfly, beating his rival and teammate Ian Crocker. He ended with five gold medals and two bronze medals. Seven total. The reason I say ended is because after the competition was over, he did a very surprise and somewhat magnanimous thing.
He decided to give up his spot in tomorrow night’s relay final to Crocker. By that I mean that the 4 x 100 meter medley relay… the United States is a strong favorite to win that. Phelps would have swum in the butterfly leg. He won that right by wining tonight’s race.
He decided to let Crocker swim in it, since Phelps swam in the morning prelims, he will receive a medal if the United States should win one for his efforts, assuming that will be gold, that would bring his total up to eight medals, including six gold; not only did he handle himself brilliantly in the pool, but he handled himself brilliantly out of the pool as well.
JEFFREY BROWN: He also has ever right to be down right exhausted. He did a lot of swimming this week.
BRIAN CAZENEUVE: Well, he really did. And I think that he found that these particular swims took a lot more out of him than the equivalent number of swims at a national championship or regional championship or even a world championship.
This is an Olympic stage. He had only been here once before as a 15-year-old. He swam in only one event. He didn’t win a medal there and here the waves of expectation kept growing and growing and growing. Michael, can you win seven gold medals, can you tie Mark Spitz?
Can you change the sport of swimming? I think given all that, the weight of expectations on his shoulders, the 19-year-old from Baltimore really, really performed very admirably here and I think it will be looked at as one of the great overall performances in Olympic history.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, there is one major discordant note here in Athens and it seems to be developing as we speak, this is the doping use by Greek at athletes, the host Greek athletes. There were two sprinters, star sprinters who had to walk away from the games.
Today there was a weight lifter who tested positive after winning a medal and the head of the Greek Olympic team has offered his resignation. What can you tell us? It must be a great blow to pride if nothing else.
BRIAN CAZENEUVE: Well, one of those sprinters, Constantino Caderas, was expected to be the final torch bearer at the opening ceremonies. So not only was he a great athlete but he was a great representative of the sporting culture of Greece.
The other sprinter, she also is not competing here because both of them missed a test that they were required to take and a missed test is considered the same as a positive doping violation. On top of that, a man named Leonidis Sampanis who was Greece’s first Olympic medalist here won a bronze medal in weight lifting, it was a spectacular moment, an emotional moment and then just today he tested positive, he had an abnormally high amount of testosterone in his sample so he will lose his bronze medal.
This is a tremendous blow to this country that has done such a wonderful job in putting on these games at the last minute when everybody said they couldn’t do it. They’ve really come together, the facilities are in place. The enthusiasm is great, and now performances have been tainted by these positive results from these athletes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Another nation I want to ask you about is China because that’s the nation right up there in the medal count with the U.S. And of course they are hosting the games in 2008. They are turning into an Olympics powerhouse.
BRIAN CAZENEUVE: Yeah, this has been really brewing since 1984 when they joined the Olympic movement. Those games were in Los Angeles and China was very well received there because they sort of turned their noses up at the Soviet boycott and they performed very wonderfully there. Since then, they’ve had great performances in sports like swimming, briefly track and field, also smaller sports such as shooting.
They’ve been the best country in the world in women’s weight lifting and gradually the medal count has been building. They are just about on a par with the United States right now and given the fact that the host nation at all the Olympics always gets a bump up in medals, I think Chinese are looking ahead to Beijing in 2008 and anticipating that they will really, really light the world on fire there.
If they don’t win the medal count here, they have a good chance to do it four years from now when the Olympics are on their home soil.
JEFFREY BROWN: On Monday, I asked you what events we might look for and you mentioned fencing. There was a lot of action and success there. Tell us about that.
BRIAN CAZENEUVE: Well, actually, there was a bit of a surprise twist to that. Sada Jacobson went in as a strong U.S. hope to win a gold medal in saber fencing. She did end up winning a bronze medal but a woman named Mariel Zagounis who is 19 years old won the first medal for U.S. fencing in 104 years. Back then it was an event in 1904.
The people don’t really seem to have a grasp of it, it was called sticks. So none of the well-known weapons, foil, epay and saber, have been very good to the United States over the years. Zagounis won the gold medal. She was a last-minute replacement. She was not on the U.S. Team until the very end when an athlete from Nigeria pulled out. As a result, the United States was able to add one additional fencer to its group. That was Zagounis. She wasn’t in the team photo.
They had to take two team photos because she wasn’t expected to be on the team. When she was coming back to Europe a couple weeks before the game she found out she was added to the roster. She performed brilliantly. She won a gold medal and it’s a moment in history for a sport that one hopes the United States will catch on a little bit.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me give you a chance to look ahead. Tell us briefly what you’re looking forward to in the next few days.
BRIAN CAZENEUVE: Well, athletics is kicked off today in Athens. There was one final, the 10,000 meters, but there will be more as the days go on. One hopes that the cloud from the Balco drug case that was in California will not overshadow some of the performances in those sports.
I think that the athletics is usually the focal point of the games. The United States still has a very, very strong team here in the sprints, even though there’s a cloud hanging over people such as Maryanne Jones, who will still be one of the faiths in the long jump.
I’d look at a sport like rowing where the United States has done so so over the last few Olympics. The men’s and women’s eights set world records in their heats last week and they have a chance to go on the finals on Sunday.
So in both big sports and smaller sports they have a chance to see some medals. Also, Roulan Gardner in wrestling who won the Greco-Roman super heavyweight class will be back. He has a chance to win it again. Next week he goes on Tuesday.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay, Brian Cazeneuve, of Sports Illustrated, thank you very much again.
BRIAN CAZENEUVE: Thank you.