OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Misutin routine close to perfect

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The Independent Online
THEY gave Grigori Misutin 9.9, so goodness knows what perfection looks like. Twenty-four hours after Svetlana Boginskaya had led their women to the gold medals in the gymnastics team competition, Misutin finished off the performance with which the men of the Unified Team confidently did likewise. In both cases, they were following in the footsteps of their Soviet predecessors, the victors in Seoul four years ago.

If the men's triumph was less emotional than the women's, that is because men's gymnastics is an even more equivocal blend of athleticism and artistry. But the sight of Misutin, Aleksei Voropayev, Rustam Sharipov, Valeri Belenky, Vitali Shcherbo and Igor Korobchinsky leaping and twisting with such phenomenal poise brooked no protests from those who believe that subjective judgement has no place in determining the prizes of sport.

Once Misutin had got them away with a 9.9 in the floor exercise, they looked more than comfortable in holding off the challenge of China and Japan, who took the silver and bronze respectively ahead of Germany, Italy and the United States.

Shcherbo's 9.9 on the rings was followed by a crushing display of three 9.8s on the parallel bars by Korobchinsky, Misutin and Shcherbo again.

Outside the members of the Unified Team, Andreas Wecker, one of four members of the 1988 East German bronze medal team appearing under the banner of the unified Germany, gave the outstanding indidivual performance of the night, never falling below 9.5 and finishing off with a magnificent twisting dismount from the rings.

The night before, the United States's women's team had won bronze and pushed hard for better. The US men, though, were never in with a shout. Enthusiastic but overmuscled college boys, they lacked the flamboyance of Mitchell Gaylord, Scott Johnson and their pals, who brought a touch of Studio 54 to Los Angeles eight years ago.

Tussling with the Italians for sixth place in the final subdivision, they fell to earth from the bar, which saw unscheduled dismounts by both Scott Keswick and Mike Waller. In the end, fifth place was decided by a hair's breadth: 0.025 of a point.

The British team, cruelly handicapped by a injury to Paul Bowler during a morning training session on the horizontal bar, could do no better than 12th. Neil Thomas, the team's highest scoring individual, nevertheless described the achievement of reaching the last 36 of an Olympic Games free of boycotts as 'a good day for British athletics'.

The winners, for their part, called on the compact elegance and spring-loaded power of Misutin for what amounted to a lap of honour with a display on the parallel bars that defined the kind of excellence which, at the highest level, this sport is capable of delivering.

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