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THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 6 : Men’s All-Around Gymnastics : Soviets Finish an Expected Businesslike 1-2-3

Times Staff Writer

The Soviets went 1-2-3 in the men’s all-around, a clean sweep as astonishingly businesslike as it was gymnastically brilliant.

Of course, everybody knew they were good. It’s just so doubly discouraging for competitors to see how effortless their rule is.

“They’re a machine,” said the U.S.'s Kevin Davis, who finished 34th in the 36-man all-around competition. “They don’t even have like a team spirit. They don’t congratulate each other after routines, they just go and sit down. I guess it’s like their jobs.”

Jobs well done, once more. The Soviet men’s team, which had won the team gold 2 nights before, placed their limit in Thursday’s all-around and placed them high. The only tension in the Gymnastics Hall, and it wasn’t much, was whether two-time World Champion Dmitri Bilozerchev could come back from an early mistake in the optional team competition and catch any of his teammates.

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Although he scored 10s on the pommel horse, rings and vault, he could catch neither Vladimir Artemov nor Valeri Liukin. Artemov, long Mr. Runner-up on the Soviet team (he was second in the 1985 World Championships, the 1986 Goodwill Games and several European Championships and third in the 1987 Worlds), survived the challenge with 10s of his own on the parallel bars and high bar to score 119.125.

Liukin, whose moves are harder but somewhat less effortlessly achieved, took the silver with a score of 119.025. Bilozerchev, who had won the 1987 World Championships after coming back from a catastrophic leg injury, won the bronze with a score of 118.975, though he actually had the day’s best performance.

The closest U.S. challenger was Charles Lakes, who fit in at No. 19 with a score of 117.175. Lance Ringnald, the other American qualifier, finished 35th. But Lakes, 24, was cheered enough by his routines to vow revenge in 1992. “Four years from now,” he said, “I will hopefully be the undisputed champion.”

Lakes must be counting on another boycott because the Soviets remain heads and shoulders above the competition. “They are really much better than anybody else,” admitted U.S. Coach Abie Grossfeld. “I see them all the time, so I’m not amazed. This is expected.”

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What’s more, he said, we can continue to expect the expected.

Bilozerchev, who had won his first World Championship at age 16, had up to now only been slowed by injury. A car accident that shattered his leg in more than 40 places kept him from the 1985 World Championships, and it was thought at the time, from gymnastics altogether. But he came back, fighting pain and the stigma of a spoiled athlete.

Then, amazingly, he returned and won the World Championships in 1987. He was not mortal, apparently.

But his mortality was exposed Tuesday in the team finals when he got tangled up with the high bar on his optionals. It was a rare mistake and dropped him out of the lead with a 9.45 score. Except for that, he would have won the individual gold.

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Bilozerchev certainly won this portion of the meet, scoring .10 better than Artemov. But since the scores are combined, he settled for bronze.

Yet there was some pleasure in seeing the gold go to Artemov, the Soviet athlete who least intimidates with his skill levels. Artemov is merely competent, as opposed to dazzling. Never making mistakes but never making medals because he is always lined up ahead of his more accomplished teammates in the rotations.

“Artemov does easier routines,” Grossfeld said. “But does them nicer. He’s very clean, elegant. His routines are not as hard as the others, especially Liukin on rings and high bar. But today he was more perfect than Bilozerchev, who was tremendous.”

This is strange territory when the athletes stack up as perfect and more perfect.

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“They’re amazing,” agreed Davis. “They’re the role models of the world. We all do a lot of watching of them, and emulating them. They intimidate the judges a little bit. They take a hop and still get a 10. But they’re definitely the best.”

In the press conference afterward, attended by Liukin and Artemov and their coach, Leonid Arkaev, very little was said. Questions were translated, sidestepped, and translated back. Yet Artemov admitted this much: “I intend, for some time, to go on.”

Bilozerchev, who has played with considerable pain, will not likely be around for Lakes’ challenge. But the non-smiling machine has new parts, some of which were on the sideline.

“The one I really like is that kid, Sergei Kharikov (17),” UCLA Coach Art Shurlock said.

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For the moment, he is not quite as perfect as the rest. But that, apparently, is still too good for the rest of the world.


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