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Russia's Khorkina balances her gloom on uneven bars gold


SYDNEY, Australia - Of course, she had to kiss those uneven bars that have given her so much pain and now so much joy at the Summer Olympics.

Of course, she had to clutch her gold medal to her chest as the Russian flag rose and the anthem echoed through an arena.

And of course, her eyes had to well with tears.

For this is the way things are with the diva of women's gymnastics, Russia's Svetlana Khorkina.

Yesterday, dressed in black and sporting a new short haircut, Khorkina wiped away a miserable first week of the Summer Games by claiming the gold in the women's uneven bars finals.

Suddenly, all was sunshine and right in Khorkina's world.

"If I did not get over my disappointment, I would not be Khorkina and would not be standing here with a medal," she said.

After all, it had been a difficult first week for Khorkina, the 21-year-old, 5-foot-5 temptress of tumbling. She did a belly-flop off the uneven bars, flew wildly over a vault that was set too short, cried a river of tears and shoved a cameraman. She was supposed to lead Russia to the team gold, but Romania got that. She was supposed to contend for the all-around, too, but fell out of contention.

She sulked. She ignored her coach. She dismissed the media with a wave and a snarl.

That's just Khorkina being Khorkina.

So, how did she wipe away the blues?

"I had a different haircut," she said. "I had a manicure. I went to the beautiful Sydney Aquarium."

Flowers from friends and admirers helped, too.

"You don't realize how many flowers came to me at the Olympic Village," she said. 'Thank you to my fans, my dear ones, my friends."

Then, 30 minutes before the event final, Khorkina's 16-year-old sister, Julia, paid a surprise visit to Sydney. So, the gymnast could finally forget the past.

Or could she?

"It will remain very, very far away from me - somewhere perhaps near the North Pole," she said.

But for Khorkina, there was still lingering bitterness over the all-around vault, when the apparatus was set 2 inches too short and Khorkina was thrown off her game and nearly on her back, contending she had been "led astray."

"It's quite possible to get killed, because if you are used to having the horse at a certain height ... " she said.

There was no doubt on the uneven bars, though. As soon as she executed her signature Stadler-Tchatchev release, flying one way off the bar, then suddenly darting the other and making the catch, she was golden.

Afterward, she doled out thanks like chocolates. She thanked Russia. She thanked her loved ones. She thanked her trainer.

But mostly, she celebrated herself - her greatness, her life and her times.

"When they were putting the gold medal on, I think I deserved it," she said.

What's next for Khorkina? Today, she's in the women's floor final and promises to deliver quite a show.

"I'm going to dance for Russia," she said.

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