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Mary Lou Who? Numbers Favor '96 Team


ATLANTA — So, what place in history belongs to the new Olympic women's gymnastics team champions?

"This team is very close to the all-time U.S. gymnastics team," says Steve Nunno, personal coach for Shannon Miller. "If you were to put together every U.S. star that ever was, the only two kids you'd be missing would be Kim Zmeskal and Mary Lou Retton."

Nunno laughed.

"I think they'd be our two alternates," he quipped.

Yeah, yeah, but could this team have beaten the Soviet Union, the old iron fist of the sport, assuming there still was a Soviet Union?

Well, as a matter of fact, they could have.

Assuming the gymnasts of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine still competed under the same flag, and assuming this mythical Soviet team comprised the top-ranking six gymnasts from those countries according to the results of the 1996 European championships, the final scoreboard in Atlanta would have read:

1. U.S. gymnasts, 389.225.

2. Soviet gymnasts, 388.853.

Making up the Soviet team would have been Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine, Dina Kochetkova, Rozalia Galiyeva and Svetlana Chorkina of Russia, and Svetlana Boginskaya and Yelena Piskin of Belarus.

Podkopayeva, the defending world and European champion, is ranked No. 1 among individual gymnasts after the Olympic team competition. Kochetkova and Galiyeva are ranked third and eighth, respectively, and Boginskaya is a former world champion.

Not a bad side. But if their scores from this week's compulsory and optional team competitions were tabulated as if they were one team, with the lowest individual mark in each event thrown out, they still would have lost to Team USA by a margin of .372.

As it was, in the real, post-Soviet breakup world, the United States defeated Russia by .821, Ukraine by 3.384 and Belarus by 7.962.

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