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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

All That Glitters Isn't Gold for the United States' Lynch

Gymnastics: He becomes the first African American male to win individual medal, earning a silver in parallel bars.

July 30, 1996

ATLANTA — Jair Lynch didn't win the gold medal he thought he might have deserved. Instead he settled for making history.

The 24-year-old Stanford graduate became the first African American male to win an Olympic individual medal in gymnastics, earning a silver on the parallel bars Monday.

His reaction? Not what you might expect. When his score, 9.825, was posted, Lynch dropped to the floor in disgust.

"I thought I won gold," he said. "I thought I had a 9.85. That was the score that was supposed to come up."

Lynch didn't quite catch Ukraine's Rustam Sharipov, who won the competition with a 9.837 score. Vitaly Scherbo, representing Belarus, won the bronze with 9.800.

The other individual apparatus gold-medal winners included Alexei Nemov of Russia on the vault and Andreas Wecker of Germany on the high bar.

Lynch's medal is only the second earned by a U.S. male in a non-boycott Olympic year since Peter Kormann won a bronze on the floor exercise in 1976. Kormann is now the American coach. Trent Dimas won a gold medal in the high bar in 1992.

"I've been breaking barriers throughout my career," Lynch said. "I hope this will inspire other [African American] athletes to come along behind me."

Lynch, who is managed by boxing promoter Rock Newman, surely made his advisor proud by overcoming a painful hand injury to post the second-highest score of his career in his specialty.

Warming up, Lynch ripped open a callus on his left hand.

"It was a bloody mess," Lynch said, adding that had he not been last in the eight-man rotation, he might not have been completely ready to compete. "I became a surgeon out there."

Using a razor, Lynch stripped the wound by himself, smothered it with benzoin compound and tried to block out the pain.

He said the injury might have helped him ignore distractions, such as the magnitude of the event and the noise from the crowd of 32,573 inside the Georgia Dome.

"Because I had ripped apart my hand, I had to concentrate only on gymnastics," he said.

Scherbo capped his otherwise brilliant career with a performance which, by his standards, was maddeningly mediocre.

Scherbo, who likes to say he doesn't count medals other than gold ones, now can not count all the way to five.

That's how many bronze medals he won in these Games after winning six golds in Barcelona, one shy of Mark Spitz's Olympic record.

He got his third, fourth and fifth bronzes on what probably was the last night of his competitive career. Adding to his disappointment, the bronze he won in the high bar, his final event, was shared as part of a three-way tie.

Scherbo, who lives in Woodward, Pa., started competition last week needing to win two events to tie Sawao Katu of Japan, who holds the Olympic record with eight gold medals won in 1968 and '72.

Scherbo's well-documented comeback after his wife, Irina, nearly died last December in a car crash, made him a favorite with almost everyone but the judges.

Whatever he thought about the scores, he wasn't sharing. He brushed by reporters and walked quickly onto a bus headed toward the athletes' village.

After his initial disappointment, Lynch quickly adjusted to silver.

"I'm getting used to it," he said of his medal. "I hope other [African American] athletes realize they can make a difference in this sport. I think that's what I did with my routine tonight."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS

Men's Gymnastics

Vault

Gold: Alexei Nemov, Russia

Silver: Yeo Hung-Chui, South Korea

Bronze: Vitaly Scherbo, Belarus

Parallel Bars

Gold: Rustam Sharipov, Ukraine

Silver: Jair Lynch, United States

Bronze: Vitaly Scherbo, Belarus

Horizontal Bar

Gold: Andreas Wecker, Germany

Silver: Krasimir Dounev, Bulgaria

Bronze: Fan Bin, China

Bronze: Alexei Nemov, Russia

Bronze: Vitaly Scherbo, Belarus

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