On this day: Russian male gymnasts continue dominance | 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Russian teammates Alexei Nemov (background) and Alexei Voropaev, embrace after Nemov finished the horizontal bar to give the Russians the gold during the team competition finals Monday, July 22, 1996, during the Olympic Games at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Karen Warren/Cox)
Caption
Russian teammates Alexei Nemov (background) and Alexei Voropaev, embrace after Nemov finished the horizontal bar to give the Russians the gold during the team competition finals Monday, July 22, 1996, during the Olympic Games at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Karen Warren/Cox)

Credit: KAREN WARREN

Credit: KAREN WARREN

Editor’s Note: This story was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, July 23, 1996, as gymnastics competitions take the floor at the Georgia Dome. This is a daily take of the events that transpired on the 25th anniversary of the Games in Atlanta.

America’s male gymnasts are still chasing the Russians — and an Olympic team medal.

While Russia, a perennial power, won the gold Monday, the U.S. men finished fifth in the team finals. It was a vast improvement over their 1992 Barcelona performance but still short of their goal of winning a medal for the first time since 1984.

Their score of 570.618 was 0.923 shy of the bronze, compared with finishing 6.525 points out of third place in Barcelona.

“It’s the most improved team in the world,” U.S. coach Peter Kormann said. “We were in the hunt for a medal today. One year ago, no one would have thought we would have been in the hunt for a medal.”

Russia continued dominance the former Soviet Union held in the sport, winning with 576.778 points. China finished second, followed by former Soviet republics Ukraine and Belarus.

The Soviet Union and its successors have won five team gold medals since 1952.

The U.S. men were fifth heading into the finals, and the crowd of 30,788 did its best to boost them higher. Bart Conner, a star of the 1984 gold medal squad, revved up the fans and they responded with a standing ovation as the team entered.

Their support never wavered, even when the team faltered. When John Macready, the first U.S. gymnast to compete, bobbled his uneven bars routine, the fans began chanting “USA” to inspire the rest of the squad.

U.S. gymnast John Roethisberger competes on the rings during the men's team gymnastics event July 22, 2021, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Mike Powell /Allsport)
Caption
U.S. gymnast John Roethisberger competes on the rings during the men's team gymnastics event July 22, 2021, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Mike Powell /Allsport)

Credit: Allsport

Credit: Allsport

But all of their cheers and screams weren’t enough; the team made too many mistakes. John Roethlisberger, the team leader who’s normally as steady as a rock, said it all when he fell off the pommel horse, looked at his hands and muttered, “I can’t believe it.”

The Russians were as solid as could be. Led by Alexei Nemov, they put together a string of difficult routines that drew “Oohs” and “Ahhs” from the crowd.

Nemov finished first in the individual standings with 116.361 points, 1.151 points in front of Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus, who won the all-around and five other gold medals in Barcelona.

Roethlisberger finished fifth, Blaine Wilson was 12th and Macready was 33rd. All three will advance to Wednesday’s all-around finals.

The Russians got some help from the Chinese, who did their best to fall out of medal contention as they bobbled and wobbled through every event. Reigning world champion Li Xiaoshuang made small errors on almost every routine, taking hops on his landings and looking shaky. He finished behind Roethlisberger in the individual standings.

Despite the problems, the competition was a sure sign the U.S. team has finally turned the corner. The program fell into disarray after the triumphant glory of 1984, and Kormann was determined this squad would put an end to the dark days.

“We were champions out there today. We stayed in control, we fought for every tenth (of a point),” Kip Simons said. “We had some mistakes, it’s hard to go through an entire event with no mistakes.”

Day 3: U.S. wins first gold of Games | Day 5: America’s golden girls crowned

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