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September 24, 2000
Prima Khorkina defends gold barsSteve Keating
After an Olympics filled with bitter disappointment, Russia's Svetlana Khorkina finally cracked a smile on Sunday after retaining her gymnastics asymmetric bars gold medal.
Khorkina, who saw the team and individual all-round gold medals disappear after errors on her signature event, came back with a vengeance recording a winning mark of 9.862.
Khorkina, Olympic, World and European champion, has not lost a major competition on the apparatus since 1994.
China took the other two places on the podium, Ling Jie grabbing the silver with a mark of 9.837 and Yang Yun the bronze with 9.787.
Dressed in a basic black leotard the shoulders sprinkled with gold sparkles, Khorkina stepped up to the apparatus the strain and pressure of a week of failure etched painfully on her face.
As the crowd of nearly 15,000 watched in silence, the willowy Russian worked through a dazzling and daring routine, gasps punctuating the quiet as she successfully completed the move invented and named after her where she had crashed to the mat twice before.
After nailing her dismount a broad smile briefly broke onto her face for the first time since she walked into the Superdome a week earlier.
But with Ling still to compete, the Russian pinup seemed to suddenly realise the gold medal she so coveted was not yet hers.
As the competition finished, Khorkina stood fists clenched at her side, tears appearing at the corners of her eyes, staring at scoreboard.
When the final marks flashed on the screen, Khorkina exploded in wild celebration.
The gymnastics diva everyone had been waiting to see suddenly raced onto the stage kissing the bars, blowing kisses and waving to the crowd.
This was a far different Khorkina then the one who left the team competition in tears and the individual all-round in surliness, telling reporters, "to get lost".
"Tomorrow I have one more performance," said Khorkina, talking more like an actress than an athlete. "I want to perform well, especially for all my fans who believed in me.
"I have to thank all the people, all my fans, who sent flowers to the Olympic village and helped me forget that day."
A Playboy centre-fold, part-time model and would-be actress, Khorkina arrived in Sydney as one of the Games biggest celebrities but saw her star dimmed by series of failures.
The 21-year-old Russian was particularly traumatised by her failure on the vault during the all-round.
Midway through the competition it was realised the vault had been set at an incorrect height, an incensed Khorkina blaming the error on her poor performance.
"It hurts a lot, it's cruel what happened," said Khorkina, adding that she had injured her knee during the vault. "It is quite possible to get killed if you're not jumping at the proper height.
"I have been vaulting for 10 years at the same height.
"I will cross that day out of my life but I will never forget it.
"When they put the medal on me today I felt I deserved it."
Even though Khorkina had qualified for the vault, she chose not to compete withdrawing at the last minute in favour of team mat Elena Zamolodtchikova.
The move by Russian coaches proved to be a shrewd one as Zamolodtchikova, the reigning world champion on the vault, gave the country another gold with a mark of 9.731.
Andreea Raduca, who led Romania to a sweep of the all-round event on Thursday, added a silver to her collection with a score of 9.639.
Ekaterina Lobazniouk gave Russia a second medal when she took the bronze with on 9.674.
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