Zmeskal listened to the criticisms—that her routines and dismounts lacked a high degree of difficulty—and quietly determined to prove her detractors wrong. She increased the technical difficulty of her tumbling, and the next time she faced Boginskaya, in the World Individual Apparatus championships in Paris in April, she proved that her win in Indianapolis had been no fluke. She took home gold medals in the balance beam and the floor exercise, the only competitor to win two events. The best Boginskaya could do was win a silver in the vault. "The die was cast in Indianapolis," says Karolyi. "This is something that's eternal. Slowly but surely they all get ground up by the wheel of time, just like all the big ones before them. Nadia, Mary Lou. And now Svetlana. You feel sorry about that. We don't want change to come. But it's natural." Zmeskal's performance in Paris establishes her as the consensus favorite in Barcelona. Asked if that worries her, she says matter-of-factly, "I usually do better when I'm under pressure. I'm lucky to have pressure on me."
Half a world away, Boginskaya climbs into a taxi with three foreign journalists to spend an unsupervised day in Moscow. A year ago this would have been unthinkable. But a year ago the food at the Round Lake training complex was better and more varied than it is today, the gymnasts' monthly government allotment of 2,500 rubles arrived on time, and Boginskaya and her teammates were competing for the Soviet Union. "I am now a Belarussian," she says, "but I feel myself a Soviet. Or even a Russian." Round Lake, after all, is in Russia, and it has been four months since she has been home to Minsk.
But it is Sunday, her day off, and to get into Moscow is a treat. It's difficult and expensive to get transportation out of Round Lake, so it has been weeks since Boginskaya has gone to the Russian capital. Posing for photographs in Red Square, she goes unrecognized by her compatriots. Gymnastics is not a sport that is popularly followed by ordinary Russians, who, in any event, have more important things on their minds than Olympic athletes.
Boginskaya has no endorsements, no job offers and very few prospects within her own country beyond the $3,000 bonus from the Russian Olympic Committee that a gold medal from Barcelona would be worth. But if Boginskaya's gymnastic prowess goes unrecognized in Red Square, her beauty does not. Two Russian youths call to her as she passes. "Hey, sweetie, what's your phone number? You're my dream girl."
"Be serious," she answers, flattered, and keeps walking. This is a Moscow she has never seen, gypsy children begging in the streets, thousands upon thousands of Muscovites lining the sidewalks, selling whatever they've managed to get their hands on—running shoes, vodka, caviar, perfume, blouses—the pitiful beginnings of a fragile market economy. "It's very interesting to walk the streets of Moscow these days," Boginskaya notes. "I like it."
She passes the Bolshoi Theater, remarks that she has never been inside and pines for the opportunity. Spotting a bunch of balloons in the lobby of the Hotel Metropol, she asks if it might be possible to have one. She is given two, red and pink, and totes them along for the rest of the day. Given the opportunity to select any gift she wants from a fancy department store that caters primarily to tourists, she chooses a bright-yellow duckling for her collection of stuffed animals. Part girl, part woman, Boginskaya hopes for one more shining competitive moment that might change her life forever. Yet at lunch, offered a champagne toast to her success in Barcelona, she demurs. "Why should we toast to my success?" she asks. "No." Thinking a moment, she offers these Olympian thoughts instead. "I would like to drink a toast to the flourishing future of all countries," she says.
Two women. Two flourishing futures. May each be the toast of Spain. And may the best one win.