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A Vault Without Fault
Bob Ottum
August 13, 1984
The U.S. gymnastic teams almost always stuck it to their opponents as they stunningly leapt to the fore
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August 13, 1984

A Vault Without Fault

The U.S. gymnastic teams almost always stuck it to their opponents as they stunningly leapt to the fore

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Gold medal around his neck, crew cut still sharply at attention, Gushiken wept through the Japanese national anthem and later allowed, "I knew that eventually this medal would come to me." In a hopeful plug for any women in the crowd, he added, "I'm still single." And Vidmar, who had reached this height after finishing ninth in the 1983 world all-around, granted himself a heartfelt "Dang it," as close to swearing as he ever gets. "If I permit myself to think of that 25 thousandths of a point," he said, "it'll bother me for the rest of my life. You know: One less bad hop here, a half-twist there, and I'd have won."

But still, there was something unsettling in all of this, a mood that was to run through the gymnastics hoopla. With unabashed nationalism hanging thick in the air, it was obvious to some onlookers that a silver somehow wasn't good enough. Here Vidmar had won the first U.S all-around medal ever (the highest previous finish had been a sixth by Frank Haubold, in 1932), and there was a feeling he had somehow failed; the U.S. women exceeded all hopes as a team, and yet they reacted with a vaguely hangdog air. Perhaps the intense crowd pressure had done it, surely the shameless ABC hype hadn't helped, but as the weekend neared, it was evident that certain priorities were becoming twisted.

Saturday night's men's individual event finals did or did not help—pick one. Gymnastics purists will scream at this, but it seems clear that these meets are too long by one event—and the apparatus finish may be it. With the field cut to eight competitors per round, still more medals are passed around. A ton of medals. In some cases, obscure gymnasts spring up from anonymity for the occasion, which is good for the sport. But most often, early form holds. That doesn't seem to prove much.

When the rotations were over—each set punctuated by a medal ceremony and cheers and anthems and bouquets—Vidmar and Conner had each gotten another gold medal, on pommel horse and parallel bars, respectively. "And I still wouldn't trade the team medal," said Vidmar. Gaylord had a silver and two bronzes on the vault, rings and parallel bars, respectively, and Daggett a bronze on the horse. Li cleaned up: three more golds and one silver. And Gushiken got one of each kind to make a complete set to hang over the mantel.

But with all that, everybody went away with one truly favorite image firmly in mind: America's pixie twirling through the air and landing every time with an irrepressible grin for the world. It seemed that nobody in L.A. could talk of anything else. And indeed, Saturday morning's Los Angeles Times made an attempt to capture this spirit in words, describing in a sidebar how Karolyi had urged Retton on. According to the story, Karolyi had asked this Little Body to perform—and the Little Body did just that.

No, no, guys, that wasn't it. Maybe you've got to know Karolyi better to understand. Listen to him. He said, in that Transylvanian accent, "liddle biddy boddy." Boddy as in buddy, with a Romanian twist.

Which is what Retton now is to us: an entire nation's liddle biddy boddy.

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