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Noise annoys some visiting gymnasts

They screamed during Vitaly Scherbo's uneven bars routine, and it wasn't to cheer him on. They clapped when Svetlana Chorkina cried, and it wasn't to ease her pain.

Clearly, the foreign gymnasts aren't happy with the home-gym advantage given Americans by wildly partisan Georgia Dome crowds.

About the only time the fans have come close to appreciating a visitor's work was a smattering of polite applause for Lilia Podkopayeva's floor routine. All she did was earn 9.887 _ the highest score of the Games _ and move from third place to the gold medal in the women's all-around.

Podkopayeva admitted winning _ and beating the Americans _ provided a satisfying in-your-face to the lukewarm response the international gymnasts have received.

"When we were competing at the same time as the U.S. national team, it was quite distracting," said Podkopayeva, Ukraine's reigning world and European champion. "Therefore, my first day here was not as good as I expected."

Gina Gogean, who helped Romania to the team bronze, then won silver in the all-around, said the pro-American crowd has thrown her out of whack, too.

"I was a little disturbed by all the noise and commotion," she said.

There are many benefits a gymnast can receive from the crowd. In addition to the psychological boost given the athletes, judges also may get swept up in the frenzy and give higher scores to fan favorites. Quite often, those are the locals.

But give the fans credit for one thing: their only boos have been for American scores they considered low.

And, they have taken to one foreigner _ Belarus' Svetlana Boguinskaya, a three-time Olympian whose icy image in her younger days made her a target of the fans' scorn.

"It's so exciting to see all the people that have come to see me," said Boguinskaya, who now lives in the United States. "I was so surprised."

RELEASED: South African athlete Gwen Griffiths was released from the hospital after a bizarre fall that may have left her Olympic dreams in tatters.

Griffiths, who was favored to reach the final of the women's 5,000 meters, slipped and fell on the concrete floor in the warmup zone minutes before Friday night's heats and was knocked unconscious.

Griffiths, 28, was hospitalized overnight, South African team officials said.

"She's feeling a lot better but obviously very disappointed," press officer Chris Day said.

He said Griffiths hoped to recover in time to compete in the 1,500 meters this week.

HOT TICKET : Tickets were selling briskly for today's semifinals of the women's soccer tournament.

As of Saturday afternoon, more than 60,000 tickets had been sold for the games at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. China plays Brazil in the first game, followed by the United States against Norway. The United States and Norway began the tournament as co-favorites for the gold medal.

The crowd would be the largest ever to see a women's soccer game in the United States. The record was set Thursday, when 55,650 watched the U.S. team tie China 0-0 at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

IT'S IN THE MAIL: Irish swimmer Michelle Smith gave President Clinton an Olympic pin when he dropped in to offer congratulations. But she forgot the T-shirt she promised him.

"That's okay," she told him. "I know your address."

UGLY AMERICAN: Journalists hoping to gather quotes from the winners of the shooting events were out of luck if they relied on one entry in the Games' computer system.

"Today's events were won by a bunch of funny-talking shooters that no one in the press conference could understand," the item read. "Nobody cared, we are gone. Bye!"

The quotes are gathered by volunteers hired by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

_ TIMES WIRES

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