Too bad the Beijing Olympics aren’t for another three years. After their showing at last week’s gymnastics world championships, the American women look ready to go right now.

The U.S. women dominated the rest of the world in Melbourne, Australia, winning nine of the 15 medals available, and finishing 1-2 in the all-around, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. They also won a bronze on vault, giving them a medal in every event.

“Gaining nine medals in one single competition probably would be the dream of any strong gymnastics nation all over the world,” Martha Karolyi, the national team coordinator, said Wednesday.

“These results showed the confidence that everything can be done through hard work and discipline, and we are determined to work even harder to maintain the supremacy of what we achieved at these world championships.”

The American women had never won more than five individual medals at a world championships, and their nine medals matches the best showing ever by any country. Romania also won nine medals in 1987, taking home four golds, one silver and four bronze.

Chellsie Memmel became the first U.S. woman since Shannon Miller in 1994 to win the all-around, and her 1-2 finish with Nastia Liukin was a first for the Americans.

“We did an excellent job at these world championships, and I know we’re all really excited about the turnout,” said Liukin, who also brought home golds on the uneven bars and balance beam, and a silver on floor. “But there’s still two more world championships before the Olympics, so we have to get back to work and start preparing for the next competitions.

“But I think this is a good first step toward the Olympics.”

While a lot can happen in the next three years, the U.S. showing at worlds establishes the Americans as the early favorites in Beijing. Liukin and Jana Bieger just turned 16, and Memmel, who also won two gold medals at the 2003 world championships, said Wednesday she’s leaning toward sticking around for the next Olympics.

Alicia Sacramone, who won the floor title and a bronze on vault, is going to UCLA next fall. But she’s already talked to the coaching staff there about staying on the national team, and said part of the reason she chose UCLA was because of its experience working with elite gymnasts.

Plus, there’s a whole crop of juniors who will be moving up over the next couple of years.

“We really set a standard for the United States,” Sacramone said. “It puts our country out there, and shows how strong we really are.”

And the rest of the traditional powerhouses, well, they’re going through a bit of a rough spot.

Romania, gold medalists at the last two Olympics and winner of five of the last six world team titles, is in disarray. The team was briefly disbanded last summer after a series of discipline problems, and head coach Octavian Belu said he and assistant Mariana Bitang are considering going to China to coach.

Russia is rebuilding after the retirement of three-time world champion Svetlana Khorkina and a shake up in the national federation, and it left Melbourne without a single medal for the first time since it started winning back in 1954. China won only one medal, Cheng Fei’s gold on vault.

“As for favorites, we don’t really think about that,” Sacramone said. “We go in there to do our job and when you do your job, good things happen.”

AP-ES-11-30-05 1812EST


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