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GYMNASTICS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS : Soviet Men Sweep the All-Around Medals

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At last, we have some insight into these Soviet gymnasts, whose men’s team provided the eighth consecutive all-around winner at the World Championships--their 13th champion in the history of the meet.

Thursday night at the Hoosier Dome, Soviet athletes swept the top three places in a field that included the 36 highest finishers from the team competition. All six Soviet gymnasts placed in the top 36, but only the first three from each country may advance.

Grigori Misutin, who likes to fish, edged teammate Vitaly Scherbo, who admits to being a “party animal,” by 0.10 of a point. Valeri Liukin, who is “a loving husband and good father,” took the bronze, despite injuring a heel on his dismount from the high bar in the second of six events.

Misutin scored 59.050 points, Scherbo 58.950 and Liukin 58.500, barely edging China’s Xiaoshuang Li, who had 58.350.

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“The rest of the (Soviet) athletes are on the same level as these three,” said Leonid Arkaev, the Soviet coach. “If they would have been in the finals, they would do the same performance as these three and would win.”

Without the three-gymnasts rule, the United States could have placed five of its men in the all-around. Scott Keswick, who has emerged as the top American gymnast here, tied for 10th with 57.825 points. Jarrod Hanks was 16th with 57.525, and Chris Waller was 20th with 57.375.

“We didn’t have one miss,” Waller said. “I bet if you look it up, there isn’t a time in World Championships history that the U.S. has gone through a competition without missing.”

The historians of gymnastics do not keep records on a gymnast “missing"--when he falls off the high bar or gets tangled in the parallel bars. But this is certain: The Americans performed consistently on routines of a high technical standard. They weren’t dazzling, except perhaps for Keswick and Waller on the rings, where each scored a 9.7, and for Keswick and Hanks on the high bar, where Keswick scored a 9.825 and Hanks a 9.7. But this was the highest combined finish in the all-around competition since 1983, when Mitch Gayord was eighth, Peter Vidmar ninth and Bart Conner 11th.

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“People keep saying this is the most talented team since 1984,” Keswick said. Keswick also qualified from team competition for the individual apparatus finals, on the rings and high bar.

Hanks said: “We showed we are not a fluke. It wouldn’t have done us any good if we would have made it here (into the all-around) and then messed up. What good would that do?”

It was Hanks who provided a little insight into the personality of Scherbo, calling him a party animal. Hanks is studying Russian at the University of Oklahoma and has spent some time talking with the Soviet gymnasts at this meet.

Scherbo laughed when he heard what Hanks called him. “I love very much to party, it is my life,” Scherbo said. “I party every day and have a good time even during competitions.”

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The Soviet medalists also had a good time at the postmeet news conference, as they listened to their coach give reporters additional insight into their lives.

Arkaev told this story of Misutin, who was strong before the 1989 World Championships but became only an alternate. “We had a discussion after the meet, and he told me that he would be the No. 1 at the next World Championships,” Arkaev said. Misutin, 20, nodded in agreement and smiled.

Of Scherbo, 18, Arkaev said that he learns fast, sometimes too fast, and this tends to make him overconfident. He said Scherbo is friendly with teammates, who look up to him as their idol.

Arkaev called Liukin, 23, who competed in the 1988 Olympic Games, “a loving husband and good father.”

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Of his gymnastic ability, the coach said: “He surprised me for the second time. In the World Championships at Rotterdam, he had a serious injury but he finished the competition anyway. He takes the World Championships very seriously.”

Liukin scored a 9.9 on the high bar but said the mat gave out when he landed, and he injured a heel. “It is the same spot everyone has been landing on,” he said.


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