OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Gymnastics: Shcherbo snatches all-round acclaim

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VITALY Shcherbo, who says he dislikes the rings, scored 9.900 on the apparatus last night to pip his team-mate Grigory Misutin for the men's gymnastics all-round gold medal. Valery Belenky took the bronze to make it a sweep for the Unified Team to add to their team gold.

Shcherbo, from Belarus, took to the rings knowing that he needed more than 9.800 to beat Misutin, who had just finished off his six- apparatus rotation with a splendid 9.900 on the high bar, on which he won gold at the world championships in April. Shcherbo, world champion on the rings despite his dislike of them, performed superbly also collecting 9.900.

The trio had helped the old Soviet Union to win team gold at last year's world championships in Indianapolis, where Misutin also took the all-round gold and Shcherbo the silver. Not since 1952 has anyone but a Soviet- trained or Japanese man won the all-round Olympic title.

Belenky led for the first two rotations, then it was Misutin's turn and Shcherbo took charge after scoring 9.875 on the floor exercise in the fourth. He finished with 59.025 points to Misutin's 58.925 and Belenky's 58.625.

Such is the gap between products of the Soviet gymnastics system, who also had a medals sweep in the men's event at the 1988 Seoul Games, and the rest that only one of the other 33 finalists scored as high as 9.850 all evening. He was the German veteran Andreas Wecker, a team bronze medallist in Seoul, who finished fourth.

The three will go their separate ways after the Olympics, with Misutin representing Ukraine, like women's winner Tatyana Gutsu, and Belenky competing for Azerbaijan. At the presentation the three men embraced on the podium for the last time as team- mates before standing to attention for the Belarussian anthem.

Shcherbo expressed his sorrow at the break-up of the team. 'The pity is that we won't be training together because we are like a wreath that hangs together. If you take out a leaf it will crumble.'

Therein lies hope for their rivals. Shcherbo and Belenky expressed their fears for the future of gymnastics in their respective homelands, where money and good quality equipment are in short supply.