THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 8 : Men’s Gymnastics : Soviets Strong but Don’t Dominate
The Soviet dominance from the team championships, when their gymnasts reached a record score for the Olympic gold, and the individual all-around, when five Soviets finished in the top six spots, didn’t hold up in the individual events finals Saturday when the medals got a more geographic spread,--including one for the host country.
Of course, the Soviets’ haul of five gold medals and three silvers in six events is paltry only in comparison to the results from earlier in the week. It is the state of the sport, you understand, that anything but a clean sweep suggests a hopeful vulnerability. Any other way you look at it, though, the Soviets continued to do pretty well.
Actually, only China’s Lou Yun interrupted the Soviet progress toward world domination. The 1984 gold winner repeated in vault, the only event the Soviets didn’t at least share in. In two other events, pommel horse and rings, the Soviets had to share space on the top step of the awards platform.
Dmitri Bilozerchev, who had placed third behind teammates in the all-around, came back to share golds in pommel horse and rings. His apparent successor as phenom gymnast, 17-year-old Sergei Kharikov, won the floor exercise. All-around champion Vladimir Artemov won parallel bars and high bar outright.
If the medal count was disappointing to the Soviets, it was probably doubly hurtful for the great Bilozerchev, who most likely retires on this meet. He said Saturday that he “would make a decision in January” concerning his retirement. But he did admit to a certain exhaustion afterward. “I don’t know if I’m generally tired, or just tired from the competition.” However, some remember that during a meet in Phoenix last spring he walked by U.S. Coach Abie Grossfeld and said, “Only 5 more months of pain.”
If this is the last we see of Bilozerchev, it is a bittersweet farewell. The 16-year-old who burst upon the scene in 1983, winning the World Championships all-around title and three events titles, has found it increasingly difficult to separate himself from the other gymnasts. Although he came back from his 1985 car accident, in which his leg was shattered in more than 40 places, to win the all-around 1987 World Championship, it has appeared during this meet that at least the other Soviets have caught up with him.
It was surprising, for example, to see him break down on a high bar routine in the team optionals, dooming him to finish third in the all-around where he was favored. And Saturday he could not quite break away from the competition, although he did score a 10 on pommel horse and a 9.95 on rings for shares of the gold.
“Three medals is not so bad,” he said later, when asked about any disappointment he might have after the all-around. Anyway, he said, he was just happy to make this team, considering what he’s been through, and only half of it physical pain.
Referring to the public back lash after it was revealed he had been drinking before his accident, he said: “The obstacles of the press, accusing me of the thing that caused the accident, practically destroyed me mentally. It has been extra hard to earn an Olympic berth, so I am very happy to get two out of a possible two gold medals.”
He did admit to an ambivalence toward his sport. “On the one hand, I want to quit, on the other I want to continue.” Then he mentioned coaching, where he could oversee Soviet rule from a more comfortable roost.
And what a roost. The beginning of the meet took its customary Soviet cast when 17-year-old Kharikov won the floor exercise, just ahead of Artemov. Kharikov, the only gymnast to thrown a 10 in floor exercises this week, nearly did it again, finishing his routine with a double-twisting layout backflip, a lot of movement with so little runway, scoring a 9.975 to edge Artemov.
The bronze was shared by China’s Yun and Japan’s Yukio Iketani. Fifth was the 1984 gold medal winner, Li Ning, whose routine was flawless and possibly underscored. But Li, who has not had a lucky Olympics (nor has China in team gymnastics) suffered from the luck of the draw. He had to perform first.
But the stranglehold weakened on the next event when Bilozerchev’s 10 on pommel horse could save no more than a share of the gold. Hungary’s Zsolt Borkai and Bulgaria’s Lubomir Gueraskov also scored 10s to share in the gold.
This was an event where six of the qualifiers had scored 10s in optionals. Three of the six were perfect again and at least two of them didn’t mind sharing first. “If sometimes two or three people get the Nobel Prize, do you question it?” asked Gueraskov.
There was some confusion in the scoring of rings, but eventually it was allowed that Bilozerchev had shared another gold, this time with East Germany’s Holger Behrendt.
The stranglehold was broken altogether when Yun repeated on vault. No Soviet even earned a medal in the event, although the maximum two had qualified. More important to the home-country crowd, though, a Korean gymnast won his country’s first medal ever in gymnastics. “And I was in eighth place after the second,” Park Jong Hoon Park said, jubilantly. He did note, however, that his placement was more the result of Soviet failure than anything else. “Because of two Soviet gymnasts falling,” he allowed.
Vaulting second to last, Park got Korea’s first 10 in Olympic gymnastics; the normally reserved crowd broke out into its first sustained cheer immediately after the vault and his coach swept him off the runway in his arms. The 10 that soon flashed was anticlimatic.
Park got a bronze out of it, finishing behind gold medal winner Lou Yun of China and silver medalist Silvio Kroll of East Germany.