Memorable Moments of the Quad: 1997-2000

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As we get closer to the Rio Olympics, TCG will look back at the previous quad’s most memorable moments. Now we’re taking a look at the 1997-2000 quad.  Stellar careers were established, new fan favorites were crowned, and it was all capped off with one of the most talked about and controversial Olympics in history.

Power of Produnova With so many stars in Russian program established in this quad, it takes a truly unique presence to stand out and be remembered.  Enter Yelena Produnova, the powerhouse who helped re-write what people thought was capable on vault and floor.  After her senior debut in 1995 (where she received attention on American television for her ground-breaking Arabian double front punch front), Yelena had to sit out the Olympics due to an injury.

Recovered in time for 1997, Yelena showed her promise for the next generation of Russian gymnastics with her bronze in the all-around and on floor at Worlds.  Medal count aside, Yelena’s bold and dynamic performances helped her stand out as all the gymnasts were figuring out the new code.  Her personality would continue to make her a favorite among gym fans.

Coupled with her personality was her seemingly impossible skills.  Dealing with a wrist injury, Produnova found ways to tumble around the traditional roundoff back handspring passes that typically brought in the difficulty.  Her front layout punch double front was a game changer for how people saw possibilities for front tumbling.

Of course, her double front vault (on the old horse!) is a prime example of not only her daring style but precise technique.  Arguably, no woman since has performed this vault as well as Produnova.  By the end of her career in 2000, Yelena was widely regarded and respected, even if she had a string of fourth place finishes and no World or Olympic gold medals.

While vault and floor were her pet events, she was a very solid all-arounder, and her only individual Olympic medal came on beam.  Watch the videos below to see her signature vault (as well as fluff piece about her personality and attitude), as well as her crowd-pleasing ‘Mission Impossible’ (how appropriate!) floor from Sydney (with her eyebrows shaped to look like a warrior!).


Moceanu’s Wild Ride Long touted the next great American success (with a Romanian background, of course), Moceanu gained attention as young as ten years old.  Even after her coaches, the Karolyi’s, ‘retired’ in 1992, Marta kept helping out Dominique in the gym.  So when Bela was ready to comeback in 1995, he had the prime candidate to shake up things in USA gymnastics.

Moceanu was built for the media attention and the pressures of Olympic caliber competition.  Despite a severe leg injury, Domi won gold with her teammates in Atlanta, but was unable to secure an individual medal.  At only 14, she was counted on to carry the next generation of American gymnasts to Sydney.

But 1997 proved a tough year for Dominique.  The Karolyi’s did retire, leaving Moceanu without a solid coach for a time being.  But since she was on tour with her Magnificent 7 teammates for months, and her parents were building her a gym, she tried to keep in shape on the road.

The Dominique who showed up at the US Nationals in 1997 did not resemble the young Moceanu so many had fallen in love with just a year before.  Slightly more grown up, not in great shape, without a solid coaching system and too many outside distractions…..her situation resembled the struggles of Nadia from decades before.  Due to the new age restrictions, Domi made the Worlds team because several gymnasts who placed ahead of her were too young for the competition.

After an incredibly lackluster World championship, Domi went home and got to work.  She returned to professional competitions in 1998 with a new coach and new skills.  She looked mature and hungry, not like she was merely hanging on.  While there was no Worlds that year, Domi won the all-around at the Goodwill Games, surprising the field with her readiness and steadiness.

Later that year at US Nationals, Domi sustained a knee injury that slowed her pace, but she still placed third and silenced critics who doubted her Sydney campaign.  The gym community waited excitedly for her return to the Worlds in 1999.  However, her personal life would not let this be.

Dominique made news again, but not for her gymnastics.  She had run away from home, claiming abuse and money squandering from her father, who had fired her coach.  She finally emancipated herself from him, so she could control her money and establish her own life as an adult.

The news and gossip (not to mention more coaching changes and injuries) left Dominique out of commission for 1999.  She returned in 2000 under the warm embrace of Mary Lee Tracy, but lack of preparation and more knee troubles led her to withdraw from the Olympic Trials.  An unfortunate end to a wild career, and many still wonder what a 1998 Dominique could have accomplished in 2000.

Here is a video of Dominique’s vaults at Nationals in 1998.  You can see the injury to her knee, but also the grit and determination to improve her vaulting:

**Olaru’s Surprising Win ** Given the incredible storied career of the Romanian program, it was amazing to consider that their last and only Olympic all-around champion was Nadia in 1976, and their last and only World all-around champion was Aurelia Dobre in 1987.  This quad saw changes to both of these statistics (Olympics discussed below).  But of all the legendary names competing at the 1999 Worlds, many did not have Maria Olaru topping their prediction list.

Maria grew up at Deva, becoming a senior in 1998.  Her stellar junior career included over a dozen international assignments and a vault title at the European championships.  In 1998, she competed at the American Cup, helped Romania win the European team title, and placed second in the all-around to Moceanu at the Goodwill Games, despite undergoing knee surgery that same year.

Maria was touted as a valuable asset to a newer Romanian team, with Amanar and Ungureanu as the only members with previous Worlds experience.  The team once again held off the Russians for the team title, and Maria scored a 38.749 in finals, which was the highest score.  Many considered it a fluke, however, since Amanar, Produnova, and Khorkina had uncharacteristic mistakes and Zamolodchikova only competed in three events.

But sure enough, Maria prevailed again.  Amanar and Khorkina had more stumbles, and Maria’s consistency and clean gymnastics won out over Karpenko and Zamolodchikova.  She remains the last World all-around champion from Romania.

Maria’s practiced and steady beam routine in team finals-

The Asterisk Olympics* Where to begin?  Every result sheet of the Sydney Olympics requires an asterisk and an explanation about the results after the performances and the results after the drama- some while in competition, some days later, and yet more a decade later.

To begin, the heartbreaking dethroning of Andreea Raducan as Olympic champion.  A fan favorite and one of the most stylish Romanian gymnasts, she led the all-around podium sweep after so many others had errors or fell victim to the vault (more on that below).  Andreea had a cold and took a pill that contained a banned substance, rendering her results from the all-around ineligible (her team and event finals scores still stand).  Despite several appeals and the fact that many still regard her as the rightful winner, the record books have officially taken her off and name Simona Amanar as the Olympic Champion.

During the actual all-around competition, of course, there was another major issue.  During warmups for the third rotation, Allana Slater told her coaches she felt that the vault was off.  She notified the officials of the competition, who discovered that indeed the vault was set too low.  Half the competitors already vaulted on that apparatus, some to disastrous results- from injuries to scary falls to ruining the chances of favorite Svetlana Khorkina.  While gymnasts were allowed to vault again after the competition was over, the overall handling of the fiasco was frustrating to watch- gymnasts continued to compete without knowing their vault troubles were not their fault. Some, including Khorkina, continued to make errors, so the re-doing of vaults did not have a significant impact on the results (interesting to note that Raducan did vault in the first rotation, and while she scored lower than usual, she still made it through with no major effect on her overall performance).

Lastly, the team final results were altered ten years after the Games when it was determined that Dong Fangxiao of China was given a fake age.  She was actually 14 at the Olympics (and 13 at the Worlds in 1999), but competed as a 16-year-old.  Years later, she listed her real birthdate on paperwork for the FIG, who launched an investigation.  Her scores were nullified from the team, all-around, and event finals, changing the results in all of those competitions.  The most significant change, of course, was the loss of the bronze medal for China, which was awarded to the USA.

These Olympics contained many greats of the sport, wonderful routines, and iconic moments, but there will always be a pall around The Asterisk* Olympics.

Here is a fluff piece done in America about Raducan after the Olympics-


**American Fan Favorite: Vanessa Atler ** As a teenage gym fan in the US during the late ‘90s, my gymnastics was limited to TV coverage and AOL chat forums with other fans.  I diligently scoured the TV Guide every week, looking for gymnastics competitions to record onto my growing collection of VHS tapes.  Many competitions were aired on NBC, who quickly focused their attention on the great talent of Vanessa Atler.

Her first ‘senior’ nationals were in 1997, but due to the age minimum being raised after the Olympics, she was still too young to compete at the Worlds.  Furthermore, her otherwise strong performance was marred by a mistake on the very last event- uneven bars.  A fall dropped her into a tie for the national title with Kristy Powell, and it was the beginning of a quad-filled drama surrounding her routines on bars.

As one of USA’s strongest vaulters (first to perform a Rudi), most dynamic beam worker, and complete floor worker, Atler could not find any consistency on bars.  While her main troubles were on the very tricky Comaneci salto, she also made significant errors on her Tkatchev, pirouetting, and transition skills.  Whether at Nationals, American Cups, or International Team Championships, the TV cameras were there to document it all.  And in typical TV drama, they played up the ‘demon’ of the bars at every chance, placing an even bigger spotlight on a gymnast who was already expected to led her team at the Olympics.

Suffering an ankle injury in 1998, Vanessa struggled again at the 1999 US Nationals.  With her first Worlds a few months away, Atler left her longtime coaches and came to Worlds out of shape and unprepared. Vanessa had a disastrous competition; bars were not her only problem now- she seemed to lack focus and attention everywhere.  A sixth place team finish and thirty-first place in the all-around with no event finals was devastating for Atler and her fans.

Always candid, Vanessa detailed her troubles and triumphs on her online diary (as one of the first to connect with fans on the internet!).  Going into 2000, she shocked her fans again by leaving California and moving to Texas to train at a newer gym run by former Soviet greats—WOGA in Plano, TX.  Vanessa showed up to Nationals with new coach Valeri Liukin and a Comaneci-free bar routine.  But she also appeared out of shape and without the same drive that had charmed audiences for years.  Subpar performances left her off the podium in the all-around for the first time, and a lack of hit routines at Olympic Trials pushed her down to sixth. Under the new Karolyi-led system, she was controversially left off the team in favor for some gymnasts who may have hit more routines, but still placed lower than Atler.

Vanessa quietly went into retirement, and her story has been told again in interviews she has given and documentaries and shows that followed up with her.  Watching her career throughout the quad, it felt impossible that the US team would leave for Sydney without her, but that is exactly what happened.  Sadly, the concept of the ‘specialist’ was unheard of at this point.  Vanessa obviously would have been a great three-event gymnast, but the push was for strong all-arounders in this quad.  Atler’s career still stands out as a strong gym memory, and despite disappointments, she gave fans many wonderful memories and brought a lot of joy to USA gymnastics.  Lots of love for Nessa!

A video that details her career:


**Sang Lan’s Tragedy ** Sang Lan was a great gymnast from China who was training with hopes of making the 2000 Olympic team.  A first year senior in 1996, she just missed the cut for the team that went to Atlanta.  After enduring some injuries in 1997, she performed well in 1998, making several international teams.

One of those teams was sent to the Goodwill Games in the United States.  Tragically, she was injured during vault warmups, leaving her paralyzed.  Before the era of live streaming, only one person captured the accident on video (Jack Carter, coach of American gymnast Kristen Maloney), and the video was destroyed without being released to the media.

Today, Sang Lan is married and a mother, and she will be remembered for her lively performances and great personality, especially on floor.  She is an advocate for people with disabilities, and while she has since been through several legal battles concerning insurance and her care since the injury, fans from this era will never forget her gymnastics.

Her story was told on American television during the Sydney Olympics:


Romania’s Reign Continues A dynasty from another era—Romania finally won the team gold at a fully attended Olympics after quadrennial of silver to the USSR, as well as a bronze at the 1996 Olympics (after entering those Games as the two-time world champions).  By 2000, they had won another two world team titles, but there was a very strong challenge from the dominant Russian team who were seeking their own glory since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Armed with gritty veterans (Amanar, Presecan), the reigning world champions (Olaru), and the newest star (Raducan), the Romanian team (also with strong workers Boboc and Isarescu) held off the talented Russian team, who had to count a fall on beam.  The realization that they won team gold was a priceless moment!

A stylish look at the great gymnasts from Romania during this era, from Gymnastics Cool Videos:


**The Case for a New Code ** After the 1993-96 quad warranted no perfect 10.0s at World or Olympic competition, the new code in 1997 seemed to emphasize the end of the 10 with great fervor (and, conveniently so, Dvora Meyer’s book about this will be out soon!)  Women needed more bonus than ever in order to even achieve a 10.0 start value, and the Worlds in 1997 displayed the pains in navigating the difficult code.  Still, even though a perfect 10 seemed completely out of reach, the idea of the open-ended system felt like a nonsensical idea.

In 1997, the Romanians, Russians, and Chinese dominated the competition, showing they had a good grasp of the new code.  But the beam competition in the event finals featured a frustrating aspect of the 10.0 cap score.  As throughout the championships, a Romanian (Gina Gogean), a Russian (Svetlana Khorkina), and a Chinese (Kui Yuanyaun) outshone the rest of the competition, but the eventual podium finish is a point of contention to this day.

While all three gymnasts had 10.0 start values, Kui’s routine was clearly years ahead of anything else being performed.  However, she did have balance checks and noticeable deductions; compared to Gogean’s routine, it had more flaws.  Gogean showed a steady routine, as usual, and while it was out of a 10.0, it clearly did not showcase the same flair and drama of either Kui or Khorkina.  In the end, the judges gave the gold to Gogean and gave Kui and Khorkina a tied score, but with the new tie-breaking rules in place, Kui fell behind Khorkina.

Though any onlooker could clearly see that Gogean had less deductions than Kui, the dynamic and daring routine from Kui looked like that of a world champion.  As she settled for bronze, the buzz about rewarding difficulty and scoring execution separately grew from a whisper to a realistic possibility.

“No offense to Gina Gogean, but no one did a routine like Kui” (Bart Conner)—


**Almost for Ukraine and Australia ** Finally, one last note about the fall-out of the underage controversy at the 2000 Olympics.  Two countries that keenly felt the effects were Australia and Ukraine.  First, Ukraine was denied a bronze medal at the World Championships (a medal many felt they should have won outright but were denied as the Worlds were held in China).  For a country that was struggling since the decline of the Soviet Union and the old training system, this could have been a great shot in the arm for the program and their funding.

Next, Australia was one spot shy of making the team finals at their home Olympics.  True, they did have several errors that cost them, but while medals were easy to give out ten years later, there was nothing the FIG could do to give the Australian team the experience of a first ever team finals in front of a home crowd.  Fortunately, Australia continued to thrive throughout the next few quads; unfortunately, Ukraine could not follow suit.

The fluff from American television about the team final, featuring the underage Dong Fangxiao—


Four years is a lot to cover!!  Add your own significant memory and moment from this quad, and watch for the next piece covering the 1993-1996 era as we get closer and closer to Rio!  Tweet me @SuperGymFan with your suggestions!! #MemorableMoments


Memorable moments of the 2001-2004

Memorable moments of the 2005-2008

Memorable moments of the 2009-2012

Article by: Kristen Ras

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