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September 14, 2000
Gymnastics hit by injuriesSteve Keating
Gymnastic gold medals could well go to the last ones standing as a rash of injuries hit the team camps of some of the main contenders in the final buildup to the start of the Olympics.
The American defence of the women's team gold, won in dramatic fashion at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, received a serious setback when Morgan White, one of the squad's most consistent performers, was forced out of the competition on Tuesday with a foot stress fracture.
Bela Karolyi, the U.S. women's team co-ordinator, received more bad news on Thursday when Jamie Dantzscher twisted her ankle in training.
"We had great hope for Morgan White but she is being replaced by a very strong, powerful, young gymnast Tasha Schwikert," said Karolyi, who was lured out of retirement and off his Texas ranch to resurrect a women's programme that has floundered in his absence.
"We had a small surprise with the injury to Jamie," he added. "I believe this is just a temporary difficulty and we are not extremely concerned.
"We know her abilities, we know her heart and what a fighter she is so I definitely hope to see her performing with the other team members."
China's bid to add the men's Olympic team gold to their world championship title was damaged when Lu Yufu, the country's top gymnast, was ruled with an injured neck.
Fourth in the all-round at the 1999 world championships, Lu sustained the injury when he landed on his head attempting a difficult vault during training on Tuesday.
The rash of injuries has only enhanced Russia's status as favourites to walk away with the majority of gold medals after the competition begins on Saturday with men's qualifying.
An optimistic Russian coach Leonid Arkayev said, he expects his gymnasts to collect at least five golds, including a sweep of both the men's and women's team titles.
"Last year in the world championships we had five gold medals and we don't want to step back from that," said Arkayev.
Despite the injury to Lu, the fight for the men's team title still shapes up as a battle between defending champions Russia and China.
Belarus, Ukraine, Japan and the U.S. will battle for the remaining place on the podium.
Alexei Nemov, a dual gold medallist in Atlanta and at last year's world championships in China, will lead an experienced Russian men's squad that includes Alexei Bondarenko.
'Sexy Alexei', as Nemov is known among his female fans, will also be among the favourite to take gold in the all-around after settling for silver behind China's Li Xiaoshuang in Atlanta.
But the man to watch, could be Belarussian Ivan Ivankov, who missed the 1996 Olympics with a torn Achilles tendon.
Ivankov bounced back from his injury to win the 1997 worlds and will be a multiple medal threat in Sydney..
The Russian women will be led by the elegant artistry of Svetlana Khorkina, who has put an acting career on hold for one more shot at Olympic glory.
The 1997 world and 1998 European all-around champion, Khorkina was written off after a 12th place finish at the 1999 worlds. But four gold medals, including another all-around title, at the European championships in May, have transformed the Russian into a multiple gold medal threat in Sydney.
Other top contenders for the coveted all-around crown include world champion Maria Olaru of Romania and Khorkina's team mate Yelena Produnova, a powerful and gutsy performer and the only woman in the world doing a double front vault.
After missing the 1996 Olympics due to a hamstring pull and the 1997 worlds because of broken fingers, a healthy and motivated Viktoria Karpenko will also provide a serious challenge.
She is attempting to become the third successive Ukrainian woman to claim the Olympic all-around after compatriots Tatiana Gutsu in Barcelona and Lilia Podkopayeva in Atlanta.
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