Soviet men celebrate last hurrah before gymnastics empire falls

July 30, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain -- They wore green tank tops, stood at attention as a five-ringed Olympic flag was raised and a generic Olympic anthem was played, and talked of landing jobs performing and coaching in Europe and the United States.

Say goodbye to the Soviet gymnastics dynasty.

Last night, in their final appearance as a unit, the gymnasts of the Unified Team easily won the men's team gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.

Led by Vitaly Scherbo, tumbling's "Dream Team" piled up

585.450 points, beating silver medalist China by five, bronze medalist Japan by seven and the sixth-place United States' "Now Boys" by 14.

"They went through this political shakedown in the last year and took the gold," said U.S. gymnast Jair Lynch of Washington. "What more can you say?"

Farewell.

The dynasty is being cracked by a dispersal draft. Beginning with tonight's women's all-around, the former Soviet gymnasts will represent their republics.

Still, there was a bittersweet moment as the former Soviets stood at attention during a melancholy medal ceremony. Overjoyed with their medals, some were displeased by the choice of flag and music.

"It's very bad," said Scherbo, a native of Minsk who was the top individual scorer. "I like my flag. My anthem. Belarus."

Even Unified Team head coach Leonid Arkayev said he longed to hear the old Soviet anthem and see the old hammer-and-sickle flag.

"When that flag was raised, it was dear to all of our hearts," he said. "We had been used to that flag and that anthem. But when the flag of the Olympic family is raised, you are part of that family."

The athletes from the Commonwealth of Independent States have overcome much hardship in recent months. Training conditions were poor, and food was sparse at their Round Lake sports complex in Lobnoye, a tiny village near Moscow. In the past month, the team shifted its training base to Italy, where the food was plentiful and the weather warm.

After the Games, many of the gymnasts will be searching for work with European sports clubs. Arkayev, a national team coach for 18 years, is headed to France.

In years past, Soviet athletes and coaches would have earned apartments, cars and cash for golds. But asked if they would receive rewards for their medals, the gymnasts and the coach just smiled.

"Our families will greet us with open arms," Scherbo said.

Despite the crumbling of the old order, Arkayev said the tradition of Soviet gymnastics will continue. Just in a different form.

"It seems to me quite clear, when we trained as a single team, there was a lot of competition among our athletes," Arkayev said. "Each gymnast tried to do everything he could. Now, the level of competition will be lower because there will be dispersion. In each of the republics, there is a strong tradition for gymnastics. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine will start to be significant in world gymnastics soon."

The Americans, too, will be seeking gymnastics credibility as the 1996 Summer Games of Atlanta approach. They came to Barcelona wearing red-and-white "Now Boys" T-shirts to signify a break with the past. They left the team competition slightly battered, absorbing six knockdowns. "I guess we're the 'Then Boys,' " team alternate Lance Ringnald said.

UCLA's Chris Waller, 27th, Minnesota's John Roethlisberger, 36th, and Scott Keswick, 43rd, advanced to tomorrow night's all-around.

"I was disappointed for everyone," said Trent Dimas, one back of Keswick at 44th overall. "This was not our best performance. We're a strong team. We should have been fourth or fifth."

Keswick was supposed to lead the Americans to a medal. Instead, he led them in falls, hitting the mat three times. "Sixth was really disappointing," Keswick said. "We definitely didn't expect to move back."

But, unlike the Unified Team athletes, at least the Americans have a better fix on the future. In Atlanta, they will compete for one country not 50 states.

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