Vitaly Scherbo: the golden child of gymnasts
Olympic history boasts many examples of gymnasts whose career peak coincided with the Summer Games, leading to multiple gold medals. No gymnast, however, male or female, matched moment to accomplishment as did Vitaly Scherbo at Barcelona in 1992.
Competing for the Unified Team, the compromise entity that represented the recently shattered Soviet Union, Scherbo, 20, won six of a possible eight gold medals in men's gymnastics.
He won the all-around competition, the ultimate in individual gymnastics, but also took four individual-apparatus golds - on the pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and floor exercise. His final gold was for the team competition.
His six golds established a record for a single Summer Games not eclipsed until the swimmer Michael Phelps won seven in 2008. Scherbo remains tied with the skater Eric Heiden and Phelps for most individual golds won at a single Olympics, five. And to think that before the Games he was considered a useful team member and not an individual standout.
Scherbo began his competitive career representing the Soviet Union, and he was known as nonconformist in a rigid society, someone who entered an arena last among his team, with a "boom box blaring, shoulders bobbing, tattered Mickey Mouse shirt on backward", according to Sports Illustrated. His former coach, Leonid Arkaev, once said of him: "Vitaly has a very high appreciation for Vitaly." For good reason, it turned out.
He later represented the new country of Belarus, winning four bronze medals at Atlanta 1996, but after he and his family were targeted for repeated robberies by criminals in the capital of Minsk, he moved to the United States.
He now operates the Vitaly Scherbo School of Gymnastics in Las Vegas, and his haul of gold must inspire his young charges.
Updated: July 23, 2011 04:00 AM