Debrecen (Hungary): Olympic champion Svetlana Khorkina’s hopes of winning the asymmetric bars came crashing down at the world championships on Saturday.
Unbeaten in a major competition on the apparatus since 1994, the undisputed queen of the bars drew gasps from a stunned audience after falling off twice while performing her daring release and catch moves.
American Courtney Kupets could not believe here luck as she took gold with a winning score of 9.550 — ahead of Romania’s Ioana Petrovschi and Khorkina’s Russian compatriot Lioudmila Eyova.
Khorkina’s failure brought back memories of her ordeal at the Sydney Games. On that occasion, she was traumatised after crashing to the mat in the team competition while attempting to execute a move she had invented.
Dressed in a diamonte-encrusted black leotard, that move again caused the leggy blonde grief and a disappointing score of 7.387, which placed her seventh out of the eight finalists.
Moments earlier she failed to grasp the bar after her first release. Horrified by the experience, Khorkina grimly finished the routine before making a hasty exit from the hushed arena.
The result was the shock of the week as Khorkina had looked in devastating form on her signature event throughout these championships.
With her grace and charm, the 23-year-old had effortlessly floated through the routine in the two qualifying rounds and easily outclassed the pretenders to her throne.
With the result seemingly a foregone conclusion from the first day of the championships, the rest of the field had their focus firmly placed on the battle for the silver medal.
But when Khorkina’s crown slipped in an instant, Kupets fixed her eyes on the scoreboard in disbelief at seeing her name still on top of the pile.
Two competitors and less than five minutes later, the jubilant 16-year-old jumped up and down with her coach as the pair suddenly realised the impossible had come true.
“This is the happiest day of my life. I knew I had to come up with something breathtaking to have a chance to dethrone Svetlana,” said the new champion, whose winning score was well below Khorkina’s previous two efforts.
“When she fell from the bars I felt bad because I know how it feels to make such a huge mistake. But she’s still a great athlete despite the fall,” added Kupets.
Khorkina will have a chance to redeem herself on Sunday when she competes for the balance beam gold.