Seoul — For the women, gymnastics is to the summer Olympics what figure skating is to those held in the winter - a coronation for the queen of the Games. As winner of the all-around title, Elena Shushunova might appear the logical occupant of this year's throne. But the tiny Soviet gymnast, while truly spectacular technically, does not have the same star quality associated with such predecessors as Olga Korbut, Nadia Comaneci, and Mary Lou Retton, who basically passed along the scepter by greeting Elena after her victory.
Olga and Mary Lou had a joyous sparkle about them that was missing in the sober 19-year-old, for whom winning seemed more an ordeal of intense concentration. And though Nadia was pretty serious herself, she stood apart because of her age (she was only 14 at the time of her Montreal triumph) and as the pioneer of the perfect ``10.''
Tens and 9.9s are pretty standard for the top handful of today's competitors, and Shushunova had six in three days. Even so, she won by the narrowest margin in history (less than half a point) over Romania's Daniela Silivas, who was more expressive.
Unfortunately, scoring favoritism left a bit of a cloud over the outcome, as a Soviet judge tipped the scale by giving Silivas what appeared to be a critically low score on the vault.
The Romanian came back in individual apparatus finals on Sunday to win three of four golds - in floor exercise, uneven bars, and balance beam - plus a bronze in the vault, thus topping all rivals with five medals overall.
The vaulting gold went to Shushunova's talented 15-year-old teammate, Svetlana Boguinskaia, who had finished third in the all-around. Shushunova, meanwhile, could only pick up a silver in beam and a bronze in uneven bars.
So consider it a dead heat.
Among the men, things were more clear-cut, with champion Vladimir Artemov leading a 1-2-3 sweep by the Soviets of the all-around medal. He also grabbed golds on the horizontal bar and parallel bars to emerge the only double winner in the apparatus competition.
In perhaps the most interesting result, three gymnasts finished with identical scores in the pommel horse. Each received a gold medal, with no silver or bronze awarded, only the second time this has ever happened.