Harvard's Gyorffy Comes Up Short at Sydney Olympic Games

Senior Dora Gyorffy, last year's NCAA indoor high jump champion, competed yesterday in the Olympic Games, tying for 18th in the world in the high jump, but failing to qualify for tomorrow's finals.

Competing for her native Hungary, Gyorffy, who is taking the semester off, breezed through the opening heights of 1.80, 1.85 and 1.89 meters, nailing each height on her first attempt. She could not clear 1.92 meters on three attempts, however, dashing her chances for a medal.

"I was very excited for her," said Paul Turner, the Harvard track and field team's jumps coach. "I'm disappointed for her, not in her."

"We are very, very proud of her," said track co-captain Brenda Taylor. "She did very, very well. She is very talented. She kept herself together to come that far."

Thirteen jumpers cleared the 1.94 necessary meters to qualify for the finals. Gyorffy's outdoor season-best is 1.95 meters. She jumped 1.97 to tie the NCAA indoor record last winter and win the high jump title.

En route to her 18th-place finish, Gyorffy defeated all three American athletes, including collegiate rival Erin Aldrich of Texas, who jumped 1.85 meters. But Gyorffy, Turner said, probably did not care if she topped Aldrich this time around.

"At a meet like this, it doesn't matter who you beat," said Turner, who received a call from Gyorffy at 11:30 Wednesday night, about three hours after she finished competing. Turner said he did not check the Internet to see how she did, preferring instead to hear the news from her.

Taylor said she received an e-mail from Gyorffy that mentioned some troubles she had in Sydney yesterday. According to Taylor, Gyorffy's heel cup, which cushions and supports the foot, made her shoe too thick. That can make a jumper taller, which Olympic officials ruled was an unfair advantage. Gyorffy was told she could not wear the insole, Taylor said.

Taylor said the news could have been weighing on Gyorffy's mind.

"If you are not expecting it in this big of a meet, it can throw you off," Taylor said.

Although her Harvard teammates could not be with Gyorffy in Sydney, they were with her in spirit, searching in vain for a television that showed her competing.

According to Taylor, who herself competed in the United States Olympic Trials, she and about 20 teammates went to the Crimson Sports Grille on Wednesday night, hoping to catch a satellite feed of the high jump from the Canadian Broadcasting Company. But the CBC did not show the event.

NBC did not show footage of Gyorffy either, though it aired taped highlights of the event yesterday morning.

Taylor said the team sent a care package--including a copy of "Notting Hill," one of Gyorffy's favorite movies--to her in Budapest before the games, but Taylor feared she did not receive it before she left for Sydney on Sept. 15.

Gyorffy spent the summer competing on the European track circuit, which pitted her against many of the same athletes she saw at the Olympics. According to Turner, she finished as high as fourth and consistently in sixth or seventh place in meets from Portugal to Norway. She also won the Hungarian national championships.

"She was having the time of her life," Taylor said. "She was competing at some of the best meets in the world. She was definitely holding her own all summer. Above all, she was having a lot of fun."

This week was not the first time Gyorffy competed in Sydney. In 1996, she competed in the world junior championships there, placing second with a jump of 1.91 meters.

But Turner said Gyorffy has improved dramatically since coming to Harvard in the fall of 1997, jumping higher at a more consistent rate.

"She's gone from a 6'4" jumper to a 6'5.5" [jumper]," Turner said. "At that level, it's hard to get that extra centimeter."

Gyorffy will be coming back to Harvard once registration for the spring semester begins, returning to uniform in time to defend her NCAA indoor title.

Harvard was shut out of the medals this year, with five Harvard graduates also failing to medal in rowing. Henry Nuzum '99, who made an appearance on NBC's Olympic coverage, did not qualify after placing fourth in a semifinal race for the men's coxless pairs.

Harvard has a long history with the Olympics. James B. Connolly, Class of 1898, won the first-ever gold medal of the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. Connolly competed in the hop, skip and jump, now commonly known as the triple jump.

A Harvard student or graduate has competed in every modern summer games and nearly every winter games.

Taylor said she hopes to continue that streak in Athens in 2004. Taylor was pleased by her strong performance at the U.S. Olympic trials in Sacramento this summer, where she made the 400-meter semifinals.

"That for me was as big as I've been in track," Taylor said. "It was amazing in the same way that the Olympics would be big for Dora. It was taking your competitiveness to the next level. Hopefully, Dora and I would be able to meet up again in four years."