Melissa Marlowe was as incensed as her coach, Bela Karolyi. They just stated it a little differently.
Melissa: "What happened was totally ridiculous; it was an extremely cheap shot; a petty way for the East German judge to make certain her country got a medal."Karolyi: "My reaction is that it's the same as if you're stopped on the highway, beaten, robbed, and you go home naked."
The United States women's gymnastics team, of which Marlowe is a member and Karolyi is a coach, may not have won the bronze medal at the conclusion of the team competition Wednesday night in the Olympic Gymnastics Hall, but they didn't go away quietly, either.
Even as the East Germans - who did win the Olympic bronze medal - were in the arena mounting the parastyle alongside the Russians, who won the gold, and the Romanians, who won the silver, the Americans were in the hallway, crying injustice.
East Germany won the bronze by a bare three-hundredths of a point margin over the Americans - scoring 390.875 points to 390.575 for the U. S.
The controversy - prompting Marlowe's "cheap shot" and Karolyi's "highway robbery" - centered around a five-hundredths of a point deduction from the U.S. score because of a platform infraction called on alternate Rhonda Faehn during Monday's compulsories. Faehn, who was assisting in moving the jump board on and off the runway at the uneven bars station, stayed on the platform during Kelly Garrison-Steves' performance because she couldn't get out of the way before the routine began.
Ellen Berger, the Jury President for the competition, jumped up after Garrison-Steves was finished and complained, calling for the penalty.
Ms. Berger is from East Germany.
She cited a rule prohibiting coaches from staying on the platform, and wanted it applied to Faehn, who she reasoned was acting as an assistant coach.
Four head judges - one from Russia, one from Romania, one from Czechoslavakia, and one from the United States - were consulted. Not surprisingly, they let the decision stand, and applied the penalty.
An official appeal from the U.S. Gymnastics Federation was denied and when the team competition entered its optional stage Wednesday night, the U.S. found itself nearly a full point behind East Germany - 195.425 to 194.450.
Making up a full point in top-level gymnastics competition isn't easy, but the Americans, buoyed perhaps by indignation, gave it their best shot. They actually passed the East Germans after the first optional rotation, scoring 49.075 on floor exercise to the East German's 47.900 on the beam.
The U.S. stayed ahead of East Germany through two more rotations, holding a narrow .125 lead going into the final rotation. That's when the East German's managed a combined 49.325 on the uneven bars and the Americans couldn't quite keep pace by scoring a steady but hardly sensational 48.900 on the beam.
The result was the loss by .300.
Forget the .500 deduction, and it would have been the Americans receiving the bronze medals.
"It's my fifth Olympic Games," said Karolyi, who coached the Romanian team before defecting and moving to America. "All the time I use my alternate to help with our routines. What Berger called was not even a rule. She cannot justify her action. It's impossible. She had to have a Soviet hold up the rule."
"I really think the officials ought to consider who they're affecting," said Marlowe. "We're satisfied because we know we outscored the East Germans tonight, regardless of a silly deduction that had nothing to do with what happened (on the floor). Talent-wise, we were the better team. I really think the whole team truly had an Olympian effort."
After a personally disappointing compulsory routine Monday - lowlighted by a fall off the beam that cost her a five-hundredths of a point deduction - Marlowe came back in style Wednesday. In the five-low-scores-count team scoring system, hers was counted every time.
She started with a 9.650 on floor exercise, followed that with a 9.725 vault, a 9.775 uneven bars routine, and a 9.725 beam.
Her uneven bars and beam performances came at pressurized times, when the East German-U. S. race was too close to call. On the uneven bars she had to go directly after Hope Spivey slipped and scored a low 9.225. And on the beam she had to follow Chelle Stack, who opened with a 9.625. In both instances, she responded with strong performances.
"I was not happy with myself after Monday," she said. "On the beam, especially, I had a serious point to prove. This makes the Olympics much more worthwhile to me personally."
Individually, Marlowe finished 46th out of 90 gymnasts entered in the team competition, with a point total of 76.850. Russia's Elena Chouchounova led all individuals with 79.675 points, followed by Daniela Silivas of Romania at 79.575. The top American was Phoebe Mills, tied for sixth overall at 78.675.
Mills will be joined by U. S. teammates Brandy Johnson, who was 11th overall with 78.550 points, and Garrison-Steves, 21st-77.825, in the individual all-around competition that starts Friday and features the low 36 scorers.
Marlowe's Olympic competition is over. Karolyi said she went out a champion. "What a super effort she gave tonight," he said. "I really was thrilled to see such a powerful performance. I really think it was shocking to those other countries (from the Eastern Bloc) to see that we had that caliber of a gymnast to lead off our routines."