Athens Game Faces

updated 09/06/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/2004 01:00AM

The comeback kid
But a judging dispute mars Paul Hamm's triumph

Another Olympics, another nasty scoring controversy—and another threatened international incident. Instead of basking in glory after a breath-taking comeback in the men's gymnastic all-around on Aug. 18 from 12th place to first, Paul Hamm finds himself on the defensive. "I truly believe in my heart that I was the Olympic champion," says Hamm, 21.

South Korean officials disagree. They say bronze medalist Yang Tae Young, 24, deserved the gold, charging judges gave him an incorrectly low starting score on the parallel bars. But his coaches didn't officially object to the error until two days later—too late, according to the rules. But not too late, according to others—including The New York Times—to suggest that the sportsmanlike thing would be for Hamm, even though faultless, to relinquish the gold voluntarily. (He hasn't.)

The ones who made the error—the sloppy judges—were dismissed, but to former Olympic gymnastics coach Peter Kormann, the fault lies with Yang's coaches for not spotting the error sooner. "If you don't know what the start value is, you're not doing your job." In addition, says Hamm, judges didn't penalize Yang's performance on the parallel bars. "You're not allowed more than three holds. And [on video review] he clearly has four. If that deduction was taken, he'd have been in fourth place."

Hamm packed up two silvers with the disputed gold—including one that he won, again, under intense pressure and, again, amid a scoring controversy. His high bar routine on Aug. 23 was delayed as spectators, unhappy with low numbers for Russia's Alexei Nemov, booed for 10 minutes. "It was louder than anything I've ever heard in my life," Hamm says.

The feuding "definitely put a damper on the Olympics for him," says his twin brother, fellow gymnast Morgan Hamm, 21 (who took home a silver). Still, his performances were stellar. "Something that helps us see the best side of ourselves," says Hamm's former coach Stacy Maloney, "that's where our minds should be."

Michael Phelps
Kicks Back

Now that Michael Phelps has won his record-tying eight Olympic medals, he's ready to get to work on another goal: building his car collection. "I told him he can only drive one car and he says he can have seven, one for each day of the week," his mother, Debbie, says. "Michael does love cars." Adds Phelps's older sister Whitney: "He says he can have a Tuesday car and a Wednesday car!"

Phelps—who already has a tricked-out Cadillac Escalade SUV complete with silver tire rims and touch-screen DVD players—is starting one car at a time. Next up? "I've been looking at the Cadillac DeVille for a while" he says, "so I hope to get that"

Svetlana Khorkina
Looking for love

Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina, 25, isn't so much retiring as taking her flair for the dramatic to other stages. Frustrated in her bid to win Olympic all-around gold by 5-ft, 97-lb. American Carly Patterson, the self-styled "Queen of the Uneven Bars"—unusually tall at 5'5" for a gymnast and at 110 lbs. thin even by the standards of her sport—said "from now on, I will engage in self-cultivation."

On the to-do list for silver medalist Khorkina, who has already posed topless for the Russian Playboy: Learning fluent English, possible film or television projects and paying more attention to her health. Also, she says, "I'd like to have children. I'd like to be loved."

And Gyros for All

Foreign country, serious exertion, lean, mean bodies: What's an athlete to eat? If you're U.S. swimming gold medalist Klete Keller, who burns about 870 calories per hour during training, the answer is everything—and lots of it. He's especially fond of the gyros, carved slices of spice-marinated grilled lamb, chicken or pork, served at the Olympic Village dining hall. "They're awesome," Keller says.

All the athletes, from weightlifters to fencers, "keep a good, healthy diet during training," says Keller's gold-medal relay teammate Ryan Lochte. "Swimmers always watch what we eat." But after competition, all bets are off—even for gymnasts. "The ice cream is out of control," says Marc Bruno, a vice president of the U.S. firm Aramark, which arranged the catering for the 24-hour-a-day food service. Consumption of frozen treats—running at 15,000 to 20,000 ice cream bars or other goodies a day for the 10,500 athletes—may set a new Olympic record, he says. The most popular item in the village? Fruit. "We're going through four or five tons a day—a pound of fruit per person per day," says Bruno. "Chefs spend literally all day carving watermelon."

When in doubt, though, athletes go for the fuel that's worked for them before: Golden Arches. "Towards the end it was straight-up McDonald's," says Lisa Fernandez, a pitcher for the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's softball team who bums about 380 calories an hour while playing. "In our sport we're superstitious. Two cheeseburgers, French fries, a Diet Coke and a bottle of water for hydration—that's our team meal."

Jeremy Wariner
Gets on the (very) fast track

He is winning time of 44 seconds flat in the 400 meters didn't break any records, but Texan Jeremy Wariner is definitely turning heads. After the skinny, shades-wearing, bejeweled 20-year-old crossed the finish line just ahead of teammates Otis Harris and Derrick Brew for a U.S. sweep of the event, his friend and mentor (and two-time Olympic champ) Michael Johnson commented, "Jeremy is a lot like I was. He doesn't let the pressure from outside affect him. But I see Jeremy as his own person, with his own style. He's got bigger earrings than I have."

Commentators noticed something else about Wariner too: He's the first white American to win an Olympic sprint medal in 40 years. Wariner downplays the issue of race. "It doesn't matter what race you are," Wariner said. "It's your ability that matters."

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