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Scherbo rolls to gold, keeps farewell party rockin'


'TC BARCELONA, Spain -- There is a rock 'n' roll gymnast from Minsk who likes fast cars, loud music and dancing in discos.

And since a pocketful of rubles can't pay for a tankful of gas, he's even willing to take his high-flying act on the road for the dollar or the deutsche mark.

Meet Vitaly Scherbo, the men's all-around gymnastics champion at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Last night, Scherbo got his gold with an aerial display that was as spectacular as it was historic. He scored 59.025 points and led a medal sweep by gymnasts of the soon-to-vanish Unified Team.

For the first time in his career, Scherbo represented not a state headquartered at the Kremlin in Moscow, but a republic, Belarus. Despite his obvious joy when the red and white Belarus flag was hoisted and the republic's anthem was played, the moment was laced with sadness.

"What is a pity is that we won't be training together," Scherbo said. "When we train together, it's like a wreath that hangs together. If you tear a piece off the wreath, you tear the whole thing down."

Grigory Misiutin of Ukraine won the silver, a full point behind Scherbo. Valeri Belenki of Azerbejian won the bronze.

And what about the Americans? The U.S. "Now Boys" were last seen falling face first into the mat.

Two days after absorbing six knockdowns and sliding to sixth place in the team competition, the Americans were once again tumbling from bars and rings. They even had one gymnast, John Roethlisberger of the University of Minnesota, trip and stumble to an 8.400 on the floor exercise.

Scott Keswick of UCLA was 19th, Roethlisberger 34th and Chris Waller, of UCLA, was 35th out of 36 gymnasts.

In tomorrow night's individual apparatus finals, Waller (pommel horse), Trent Dimas of Albuquerque, N.M. (horizontal bar) and Jair Lynch, of Washington and Stanford University (parallel bars) will compete.

"We have to pick up the pieces," said U.S. coach Francis Allen.

Not the former Soviets. They're breaking apart. But in Barcelona, they are providing one last array of medal-winning performances.

Scherbo, 20, the son of acrobats, is the last in the line of gymnasts produced by the Soviet sports machine. He entered the sport as a 7-year-old "because I was so small," and eventually made his way to the country's main training camp.

With a brace wrapped around his right knee, Scherbo performed nearly flawless routines. His lowest score was a 9.775 on the horizontal bar, and his highest was a 9.875 on the floor exercise and the pommel horse.

"Once you're in the finals, you're like an automaton," he said.

Away from the gym, though, Scherbo is hardly a machine. Married last December, he still enjoys racing his Lada and playing loud western music.

"Well, it's not exactly accurate to say I'm a fan of fast cars," he said. "I love cars. I love driving cars. But I don't want to get in accidents. As for dancing, I will if I'm in a very good mood. I love nature, too. I love pitching tents. I love fishing. And I love rest."

That may be a lot of love for one person, but Scherbo is also a realist. With the sports system of the former Soviet Union collapsing, he's ready to head to Europe to earn cash performing and coaching for sports clubs.

"I believe our medals will have an importance on our future in the contracts that might be offered us by foreign countries," he said. "We need money. Money is necessary for all."

The rock 'n' roll gymnast from Minsk is a capitalist, after all.

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