OLYMPIC GAMES: Scherbo's willpower faces supreme test

SPORT-BY-SPORT GUIDE No 13: GYMNASTICS
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The Independent Online
If the men's Olympic individual competition were decided on the basis of motivation and willpower, Vitaly Scherbo would be certain to retain his title in Atlanta.

The 25-year-old from Belarus, who came away from Barcelona with six gold medals for the Unified Team in 1992, is seeking more of the same as he adapts to his adopted country, where he lives with his wife and child. He wants to dedicate victory to his wife, Irina, who recovered from a near-fatal car crash before Christmas.

Scherbo abandoned the sport and spent nearly two months at her hospital bedside before she recovered sufficiently to tell him to get back to his training.

Suitably encouraged, he set about recovering his form and his fighting weight. Even if he has been able to do so, however, he will still face implacable opposition in the form of Li Xiaoshuang, the Chinese competitor who beat him in last year's World Championships. While Scherbo is heated and outspoken, Li Xiaoshuang is cool and measured. The mixture should be interesting.

If either falters, Scherbo's Belarus team-mate, the 21-year-old Ivan Ivankov will profit eagerly.

The favourite for the women's title is the small but determined figure of Lilia Podkopayeva, Ukraine's world and European champion, who has her own compelling reasons to seek success.

An Olympic title would provide her with enough money to move her mother, siblings and grandparents out of the cramped Donetsk apartment they all share to somewhere more salubrious. Her biggest rival may be the charismatic and talented 14-year-old from China, Mo Hulian.

The host nation, energised by memories of their 1984 champion of the boycotted Los Angeles Games, Mary-Lou Retton, will be screeching for further glory. However, their main, much-hyped hope, the 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu, appears to be suffering under the pressure. Moceanu, of Romanian parentage and trained by the Romanian who coached Nadia Comaneci to the 1976 title, Bela Karolyi, is reportedly carrying a stress fracture and may not compete.

Other contenders will include America's 1992 silver medallist Shannon Miller, Svetlana Khorkina of Russia, and the queenly 23-year-old from Belarus, Svetlana Bouginskaya.

GREAT BRITAIN: Men: D Brindle, L McDermott. Women: S Lawrence, A Reeder.

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