August 28, 2004

Catch Is Worth Her Weight in Gold

USA's Tamika Catchings (10) reacts with fans as Diana Taurasi, left rear, wears a basketball goal on her back after she and her teammates returned to the Olympic Indoor Hall to watch the American men play Lithuania during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2004. The USA women beat Australia 74-63 to claim the gold. The basketball goal is worn by entertainers who encourage fans in the stands to try and make a goal during timeouts. At right is Suzanne Bird.

August 22, 2004

Humphrey, Kupets Win Medals in Uneven Bars

ATHENS, Greece - Americans Terin Humphrey and Courtney Kupets took the silver and bronze medals on uneven bars Sunday, giving the United States its sixth and seventh gymnastics medals of the Athens Olympics.

Emilie Lepennec of France won the gold. Svetlana Khorkina of Russia, a two-time Olympic champion in the event, fell off during her routine and finished last of the eight competitors.

Humphrey and Kupets joined Annia Hatch, who won silver on the vault, as medalists in Sunday's event finals. The Americans also won silver medals in both team competitions and golds in both all-arounds.

The seven medals are the most for the United States in a nonboycotted Olympics since 1932. In the boycotted 1984 Games, the Americans won 16.

August 19, 2004

U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm recovers from ugly fall to win Olympic gold - a comeback for the ages

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Paul Hamm ought to get two golds for this performance.

With his medal hopes all but gone after he hit the judges' table on his vault landing, Hamm performed two of the most spectacular routines of his career to win the men's all-around gymnastics title by the closest Olympics margin ever.

"I'm happy right now. Shocked, actually," he said. "To be in first place after that kind of mistake, I thought there was no chance to win."

Hamm needed a 9.825 on the high bar, his best event, to tie Kim Dae-eun of South Korea for gold -- and he was dazzling. The highlight of his routine are three straight release moves, and he did them perfectly Wednesday night to become the first U.S. man to win the event.

The reigning world champion from Waukesha, Wis., Hamm threw himself up and over the bar, catching it on the way down once, twice and then a third time, soaring higher with each toss.

Hamm's dismount was perfect, and he hit the mat with a solid thud before thrusting his fists into the air and throwing his head back in amazement. He waved at the roaring crowd and then sprinted off the podium clapping his hands while his coach, Miles Avery, jumped up and down on the sideline.

"I thought I could win silver, maybe bronze," Hamm said. "I didn't think I could win gold until Miles said, `You're the Olympic champion,' and all I could think to say was, 'No way!"'

Oh, yes. Hamm finished with 57.823 points, beating Kim by .012. The previous closest margin in the event was .017 by Leon Stukelj of Yugoslavia over Robert Prazak of Czechoslovakia in the 1924 Games. The women also had .012, in 1992, when Ukraine's Tatyana Gutsu edged American Shannon Miller.

"I thought maybe I could get first," Kim said. "I'm rather disappointed and angry, in a way."

Yang Tae-young of South Korea won the bronze. Brett McClure of the United States finished ninth. He had been third going into the final rotation, the still rings, but that's his worst event.

"I took a picture of the scoreboard after five events, because I knew I was going to drop," McClure said.

After Hamm's victory, Avery grabbed him in a bearhug. His opponents did the same, then Hamm dropped into a chair, overwhelmed by what he had done. When his score of 9.837 flashed on the scoreboard, the arena went into a frenzy.

"We all knew that Paul was the best coming in," said Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics. "To fall and then have to do a perfect routine to win it and stick the landing, is incredible."

As the world champion, Hamm was the clear favorite. And the gold medal appeared to be within his grasp when he took a .038 point lead over China's Yang Wei, his biggest rival, halfway through the meet.

Vault is usually one of Hamm's strongest events. He looked good when he hit the springboard and leapt forward, turning his body sideways before his hands hit the horse.

Springing backward, he did 11/2 somersaults, but he didn't get enough height on the twists and hit the mat in a crouch. He had no chance to stabilize himself, his left leg crossing over the right and sending him on a sickening stumble.

"I don't know how that happened," Hamm said. "It felt good in the air."

The crowd gasped as Hamm fell sideways and back off the mat, hitting the edge of the judges' table before he plopped down, a stunned look on his face. He got up and walked off the podium, shaking his head and thinking he'd probably just cost himself the gold.

Hamm looked dazed when he saw his score of 9.137, which dropped him all the way to 12th place and more than a half-point behind Yang -- an almost insurmountable deficit. He still had two events to go, but he had to be absolutely perfect and hope that one of the gymnasts in front of him would make a mistake.

"I thought it was done," Avery admitted. "He was in 12th place. I looked at the scoreboard and said it's a long, long climb, because I know the quality of the gymnasts out there."

Hamm did his part on his next event, the parallel bars. Going first, he flipped from one handstand right into another on the delicate bars, still as a marble statue. His dismount was textbook perfect.

His score, also a 9.837, was the highest on the parallel bars, moving him up in the standings. But he needed help, and he got it as, one by one, his competition fell away.

First went Yang, who lost the gold medal to Russian star Alexei Nemov in Sydney four years ago and then finished second to Hamm at last year's worlds.

Doing a one-armed pirouette on the high bar, Yang reached to grab the bar with his free hand and came away empty. Swinging wildly like a kid on monkey bars, Yang tried to hang on but couldn't, dropping to the ground and taking his medal hopes with him.

Isao Yoneda of Japan fell on a similar move. Ioan Suciu of Romania stalled on a handstand. Marian Dragulescu couldn't keep his arms locked on a flip on the parallel bars, sinking well beneath the bar with his legs flailing.

When the rotation finally ended, Hamm had moved all the way back to fourth place, only .313 points out of first.

"Sure, he was a little frustrated" after the fall, McClure said. "But the great ones take that frustration and direct it toward an event and put up a huge number. And then, BOOM!"

Competing on floor, Kim's routine was solid but not spectacular. He looked up as he walked off the floor, then went to the sideline to wait. About five minutes later, it was Yang's turn on the high bar. His routine was serviceable, too, but hardly golden, and a small step on his landing gave Hamm a chance.

He made the most of it.

Hopping up and down as he waited, Hamm was the picture of calm once he stepped on the podium. Starting with slow swings, he quickly built momentum.

Jerking back on the bar as if to get as much power as he could, Hamm began his release moves, blind throws more than 10 feet in the air that some acrobats wouldn't try.

But Hamm has a way of making it look easy. And now he has a gold medal to show for it.

"I dug down deep and fought for everything," he said. "It was the best performance of my life."
American Hamm Claims Men's Gymnastics All-Round Crown

ATHENS (Reuters) - Paul Hamm etched his name into the record books as he became the first American man to win the Olympic gymnastics all-round crown Wednesday.

Hamm overcame a fall from the vault to grab a last gasp victory with the final routine of the day for a total score of 57.823.

"I thought after the vault I cost myself any medal. My thought was I should shoot for bronze," said a jubilant Hamm after adding the Olympic gold to the world title he won last August.

"I dug down deep and gave it everything I had on the parallel bars and high bar. And after high bar, my coach said 'all right Olympic champion, and I said 'what, no way'."

Mounting the horizontal bar trailing in fourth place, Hamm completed his gravity-defying routine to perfection and threw his arms up in the air in victory even before the judges had declared their verdict.

His final score of 9.837 was enough to edge out South Korean's Kim Dae-eun by just 0.012 of a point and spark off ecstatic celebrations around the Olympic Indoor Hall.

South Korea's second representative Yang Tae-young settled for bronze with 57.774.


"This is the most amazing comeback in gymnastics history," said Hamm's team mate, Brett McClure, who was also in contention for the crown going into the final round.
"Paul's worked really hard and he deserved to win."

Hamm's title hopes appeared to have ended in spectacular fashion in the fourth rotation when he mis-timed his vault and ended up flat on his side before rolling off the mat.

With his disappointment etched on his face, the American walked slowly back to his seat thinking his title aspirations had vanished even before his score of 9.137 flashed up on the screen.

However, when his Chinese rival Yang Wei's gold medal hopes suffered a similar fate less than 20 minutes later when he inexplicably lost his grip from the horizontal bar, Hamm knew he was in with a chance and kept his focus.

"Paul was in 12th place after that vault and that's a hard place to climb out of," said Hamm's coach Miles Avery.

"After that vault I thought he had no odds left, we were so hoping for a medal at that point but after parallel bars I knew we were so in."

Earlier in the evening, the anticipated showdown between Hamm and Yang seemed to be following a pre-written script as both started their quest for gold with identical scores of 9.725.


While Hamm displayed his powerful tumbling combinations on the floor, Yang shared the spotlight by keeping a straight bodyline as he swivelled over the pommel horse with ease.

However, Hamm's crash landing proved to have a domino effect among his main rivals as one after another messed up their routines, leaving the unfamiliar South Korean duo on top of the pack going into the final rotation.

"When I started out tonight, I wasn't all that ambitious but by the parallel bars, I was looking good so I became ambitious," said silver medallist Kim.

"I saw that Paul Hamm had made mistakes and I thought I might have a chance of gold."

August 09, 2004

Actress Fay Wray of 'King Kong' Fame Dies

NEW YORK - Fay Wray, who won everlasting fame as the damsel held atop the Empire State Building by the giant ape in the 1933 film classic "King Kong," has died, a close friend said Monday. She was 96.

Wray died Sunday at her Manhattan apartment, said Rick McKay, a friend and director of the last film she appeared in. There was no official cause of death.

"She just kind of drifted off quietly as if she was going to sleep," said McKay, director of the documentary "Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There."

"She just kind of gave out."

During a career that started in 1923, Wray appeared with such stars as Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy, but she was destined to be linked with the rampaging Kong in movie fans' minds.

"I used to resent `King Kong,'" she remarked in a 1963 interview. "But now I don't fight it anymore. I realize that it is a classic, and I am pleased to be associated with it. Why, only recently an entire issue of a French magazine was devoted to discussing the picture from its artistic, moral and even religious aspects."

She wrote in her 1988 autobiography, "On the Other Hand": "Each time I arrive in New York and see the skyline and the exquisite beauty of the Empire State Building, my heart beats a little faster. I like that feeling. I really like it!"

"King Kong" obscured the other notable films Wray made during the '30s. They included adventures "The Four Feathers" (with Richard Arlen and William Powell) and "Viva Villa" (Wallace Beery), Westerns "The Texan" (Cooper) and "The Conquering Horde" (Arlen), romances "One Sunday Afternoon" (Cooper) and "The Unholy Garden" (Colman) as well as horror films "Dr. X" and "The Mystery of the Wax Museum."

After appearing in Erich von Stroheim's 1928 silent "The Wedding March," playing a poor Viennese girl abandoned by her lover, a playboy prince, Wray became a much-employed leading lady. In 1933, the year of "King Kong," she appeared in 11 films, co-starring with Beery, George Raft, Cooper, Jack Holt and others.

In 1980, she told of her dissatisfaction with roles of that period: "In those days, the female characters never knew who their parents were. Leading ladies were not supposed to be funny but were supposed to stand there and look beautiful. That was frustrating as an actress."

In her autobiography, the actress recalled that she had been paid $10,000 for "King Kong" (budget: $680,000), but her 10 weeks' work was stretched over a 10-month period. "Residuals were not even considered, because there were no established unions to protect us," she added.

In "King Kong," she plays an unemployed actress who agrees to take a job with a movie company that is going on location to a mysterious island. Kong is the huge ape that inhabits a part of the island.

When the film company discovers him, Kong is attracted to Wray and abducts her. But he is eventually captured and to New York and put on display. Kong escapes and finds Wray, with terrifying results, but eventually meets his death on the Empire State Building.

She was proud that "King Kong" had saved RKO studio from bankruptcy. Of Kong she wrote: "He is a very real and individual entity. He has a personality, a character that has been compelling to many different people for many different reasons and viewpoints."

Wray stayed active in recent years, McKay said, touring the globe to promote "The Wedding March" when it was reissued in 1998 and flying to Los Angeles for her grandson's wedding just weeks ago. She was working on a sequel to her autobiography, he said.

Wray was the guest of honor in 1991 at a ceremony marking the 60th birthday of the Empire State Building, saying that if she were mayor of New York, "I would want to run the city from this building ... and get up every morning to see the sun rise."

Although Kong appeared huge, the full figure was really only 18 inches tall. Wray knew him by the arm, which was 8 feet long.

"I would stand on the floor," she recalled, "and they would bring this arm down and cinch it around my waist, then pull me up in the air. Every time I moved, one of the fingers would loosen, so it would look like I was trying to get away. Actually, I was trying not to slip through his hand."

"King Kong" was famously remade in 1976 with the giant ape scaling the World Trade Center towers with Jessica Lange in its oversized grip, and the story is being remade yet again by "The Lord of the Rings" filmmaker Peter Jackson, this time with Naomi Watts as the female lead. The newest movie is set for release in 2005.

McKay said that Jackson had hoped to persuade Wray to appear in his version of the tale.

By the late '30s, Wray was appearing in low-budget films, and she quit working in 1942 to be a wife and mother. Her first husband was John Monk Saunders, who wrote such air films as "Wings" and "The Dawn Patrol." She was 19 and he was 30 when they married. She discovered he was an alcoholic and a drug addict, and the marriage became a nightmare.

After a divorce, she married Robert Riskin, the brilliant writer of "It Happened One Night," "Lost Horizon" and other Frank Capra films. In 1950, he suffered a stroke from which he never recovered. He died five years later.

Returning to work in 1953, Wray appeared mostly in motherly roles in youth-oriented films like "Small Town Girl," "Tammy and the Bachelor" and "Summer Love." In 1979 she played opposite Henry Fonda in a TV drama, "Gideon's Trumpet."

She was born Vina Fay Wray on Sept. 15, 1907, near Cardston in rural Alberta, Canada. Her parents moved to the United States when she was 3, first trying farming in Arizona and eventually returning to Salt Lake City, where Wray's mother was from. Later, they settled in Los Angeles.

As a teenager she haunted studio casting offices and won an occasional bit role. Despite her mother's fears that the movie crowd was sinful, Wray was allowed to accept a six-month contract with Hal Roach at $60 a week.

Wray had a daughter, Susan, from her first marriage and a daughter and son, Victoria and Robert Jr., by the second. Sixteen years after Riskin's death, she married his physician, Dr. Sanford Rothenberg, who died in 1991.