Gymnastics: Shining Shcherbo dazzles rivals: Olympic titan casts imposing shadow over World Championships

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The Independent Online
THERE were times last night when it seemed the only thing Vitaly Shcherbo could not do elegantly is grow a moustache. It is a thin wispy thing, in striking contrast to the muscular physique that lurks around it. An adolescent's growth on a massively powerful frame.

Everything else looked the part. The shoulders and arms so huge they appear to turn his body into a square, the back and legs military straight and correct. The moves may not be as silky smooth as he might like - he says he is performing badly - yet the 21-year-old Belarussian won the men's overall competition at the World Gynmastics Championships. When you are as good as he is even a below-par performance, it seems, is more than adequate.

He would know, of course, but the only outward sign that a non-expert might detect of his lack of preparation came in the rings. At the Olympics Shcherbo won gold in the discipline, yet on Wednesday his performance was not good enough to get him into tomorrow's individual final. Last night it was his first discipline and his score of 9.125 was poor by the standards of the company he was keeping at the National Exhibition Centre.

It seemed to verify his opinion that he had not trained enough for this competition. It was only a fortnight ago that he abandoned his exhibition work in the United States and started to train properly for this event but if his opponents sensed a weakness in the man who took six of the eight golds available to him in Barcelona he quickly altered their opinion.

His vault, a charge down the runway like a long jumper and then a huge twisting somersault, scored 9.537. In one leap he moved from 12th to third in the interim rankings. By the end of the third discipline he was ahead and was never caught.

Shcherbo had said he would remedy his tiredness by sleeping all day. The reigning overall world champion, Grigori Misutin, had the sort of time which probably made him regret ever getting out of bed. His vault was even better than Shcherbo's, 9.55, but once he got to the bars he lurched like a drunk from a medal position to obscurity, hampered by a shoulder injury.

On the parallel variety the Ukrainian was similarly disadvantaged, losing his balance and having to bale out sideways while on the high bar his grip slipped and he had to start again. His scores for both disciplines, 8.325 and 8.575, were among the worst six of the night.

With Valeri Belenky, the bronze medallist at Barcelona, also brought to his knees by his relatively easy dismount from the high bar, it left Russia's Sergei Charkov to take second with Germany's Andreas Wecker third. Shcherbo's winning margin was more than half a point, a chasm at this level.

Ironically, the highest individual scores of the entire men's competition, qualifying rounds included, came courtesy of the man who brought up the rear. Gil Su Pae, of North Korea, scored 9.762 on his speciality, the pommel horse, then a 9.700 on the same apparatus, the second highest score. Errors, however, produced 7.950 on floor exercises and 7.725 on the high bar. It was a night of contrasts.