Olympics 2000 notebook

Olympic surprises don't come any bigger than this. Rulon Gardner, America's super heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestler, stunned the world here last night by defeating three-time Olympic gold medalist and seemingly invincible Alexandre Kareline of Russia. Given no chance against Kareline, Gardner was able to win, 1-0. Kareline had an unbelievable rsum and hadn't been beaten since 1987. "Believe in your mind," said an elated Gardner afterward, "and your body can do whatever it's asked to do." How big is the victory? Discussion recently has centered on whether Kareline might be the best athlete in modern history.

American cyclist Lance Armstrong, winner of the Tour de France two years in a row, emphasized the other day that regardless of how he ranks cycling races, "there was only one reason to come [to the Olympics], and that was to win." His agent, Bill Stapleton, agreed and said, "Anything less than a gold medal will be a disappointment."

Yesterday was a disappointment. In the 156-mile road race, Armstrong - who was hit by a car near Nice, France, in August and suffered several injuries - was never anything but just another one of the guys in the pack. He ultimately finished 13th, about a minute and a half behind winner Jan Ullrich of Germany. Armstrong was 12th in the same race in Atlanta four years ago.

Gail Devers, Nourredine Morceli, and Sergey Bubka joined the ever-growing champions' casualty list yesterday as all failed to reach their respective finals.

Devers, a double Olympic sprint champion who has never won her favored 100-meters-hurdles event, crashed out of the semifinal after clipping a barrier.

Algerian Morceli - 1,500 meters gold medalist in 1996 and, like Devers, a triple world champion - also failed to survive his semifinal after a collision with another competitor. Bubka, meanwhile, world champion six times in a row and the holder of 17 world records, failed to get over his opening height in the pole vault.

The heavily favored Devers cleared four hurdles, then slowed down after losing her stride pattern and ran into the fifth barrier. The American, unmistakable with her long painted fingernails, now looks certain to end her illustrious career even though she has vowed not to retire. "Why should I retire?" she said. "I'm 33, and I'm running faster than I have ever run in my life."

Kay Poe reached the Olympics because her best friend gave up her spot on the US tae kwon do team. Once Poe was in Sydney, a fighter from Denmark knocked her right back out of medal contention. Hanne Hoegh Poulsen upset Poe 4-3 in a first-round flyweight match.

Poe was the world's top-ranked flyweight going into the US trials last spring. Then she dislocated a kneecap in the semifinals, leaving her unable to compete in the finals against her best friend, Esther Kim. Kim decided to forfeit the match, giving the more-accomplished Poe a chance to go to the Olympics. Kim watched Poe's loss. "We are all proud of her," Kim said. "She hasn't let anyone down."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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