HARTFORD - In a better-late-than-never moment, the six members of the 2000 U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team last night were presented bronze medals that the sport's international officials recently determined were unfairly awarded to China a decade ago in Sydney, Australia.
"It's surreal," admitted Jamie Dantzscher. "I feel like I didn't do anything. It was 10 years ago. It's weird, but it's exciting. I have a bronze medal around my neck now . . . "
Dantzscher and teammates Dominique Dawes, Elise Ray, Kristen Maloney, Tasha Schwikert and Amy Chow - together in the same place for the first time since the Sydney Games - were honored in a six-minute ceremony that led off the four-day national gymnastics championships here.
International Olympic Committee member Anita DeFrantz called it "a pleasure to right this wrong," rewriting the result of the 2000 Games which had Romania first, Russia second, China third and the Americans fourth. A lengthy investigation, concluded only three months ago, found that Chinese team member Dong Fangxaio had been only 14 years old at the time - two years under the Olympic minimum set in 1997.
"A friend called with the news and said, 'Congratulations,' " Chow said. "And I said, 'For what?' "
All six had long ago moved on: Chow is now a doctor of pediatrics, Dawes a motivational speaker, Dantzscher and Ray gym coaches, Schwikert a television stunt person, Maloney a gym instructor after briefly working as a pre-school teacher in Woodside.
"It's been a decade," Dawes said. "Get over it."
Dantzscher decided that, having waited so long for her medal, "I'm glad it happened this way. Because I wouldn't change anything about my life the last 10 years."
The cold case only was re-opened after Dong's credential at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she was working as a technician, was discovered to reveal her true age. Eventually, FIG, the sport's global governing body, used that fact to recommend that the IOC strip the Chinese of the bronze. And the Americans were un-robbed.
Not that they had any suspicions of under-age Chinese back then. The Americans last night recalled being isolated from other athletes in Sydney, an all-business approach that clearly annoyed a couple of them, and generally being ignored by their own federation because of their failure to medal. At the time, and for the last 10 years, that American team was the only U.S. women's team not to win a single medal since 1976.
"It was heartbreaking," Ray said. "We felt very much pushed under the rug."
So one purpose of last night's celebration, U.S. gymnastics federation president Steve Penny said, "was to say, 'Guys, we appreciate what you did back then, and we're proud of you.' "
Ray figured that DeFrantz said it best: "This was the honorable thing, and it feels that way. We could say, 'We did great and so what if we finished fourth.' But I've got a medal around my neck now and you can't take that back."