A high time, at times The competition in Moscow was uneven, but it did have its moments

July 27, 1986

By the time the volleyball final between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. at
the Goodwill Games moved into its fourth hour on Saturday night, the
opposing teams had already attained something of the dual ambition of
these games. They had been splendid in competition. And they were
''We get along with those guys better than with any other team in
the world,'' U.S. captain Karch Kiraly had said earlier. ''We pride
ourselves on having hard-fought matches, and then they try to drown
us with vodka.''
The Soviets had won four world championships and three Olympic
golds since 1960 but the U.S. team had won the 1984 Olympic gold and
beaten the Russians in last year's World Cup. And now, on the
strength of Kiraly's serving, the U.S. won the first two sets, 15-8,
15-8. Then the Soviets got their tremendous blocking game going to
win the next two, 15-11 and 16-14. Ultimately, the Soviet pickets
grew ever more effective as the U.S. hitters tired. Deciding set:
15-10, U.S.S.R. It was vodka time.
Volleyball, along with track, swimming, women's basketball and
gymnastics, provided the Goodwill Games with the kind of elite
competition founder Ted Turner had hoped would command world
attention. But other sports were diluted by conflicting championships
elsewhere and the uniform lack of interest of Western European
countries. Many nations were represented in Moscow only by one or two
token athletes recruited to swell the number of flags outside Lenin
Thus, had they been held anywhere else, these games might be
called unnecessary. But as diplomacy, they were a good and generous
idea because they brought hundreds of young Americans to a Moscow
that was prepared to be nice to them.
Banners at every venue said FROM FRIENDSHIP IN SPORT TO PEACE ON
EARTH, and Turner bragged hourly that this was the first step away
from the nuclear brink. That was Turner hype, his distinctive blend
of good intentions and stunning oversimplification. Nevertheless,
U.S. competitors met and sipped Bulgarian peach nectar and talked and
danced with Soviets in the restaurant of the Rossiya Hotel. And
outside, across Red Square, after being furiously shushed and
straightened up by the guards, a lot of Americans got their view of
the recumbent Lenin. ''Not bad,'' said Turner, the very model of the
casual capitalist titan. ''A little pale, but not bad.''
The disparity among the sports at the Goodwill Games was
illustrated at the indoor stadium of Moscow's Olympic sports complex,
a cavern that can hold 40,000 for soccer. During the games a great
steel partition divided it in half. On one side was boxing, the
concussive world that was dominated by the Soviets -- they won 11 of
the 12 gold medals -- after the Pentagon's unexpected ban on U.S.
military athletes prevented nine boxers from competing. On the other
side was the music and light of women's gymnastics, and here were
truly Olympian performances. The U.S.S.R.'s co-all-around world
champion, Oksana Omeliantchik, all 4 ft. 9 in., 85 pounds of her,
enraptured the crowd. In the end Omeliantchik would fall from the
uneven bars and her 17-year-old teammate and co-world champion Elena
Shushunova from the beam, presenting their teammate Vera Kolesnikova
with an unexpected all-around championship.
But on the first night of competition Shushunova wrapped up the
Soviets' team title with a perfect 10 on the uneven bars. Her landing
was as solid and joyful as that of a child jumping in a mud puddle.
She crouched there for a moment of smug triumph, then ran off through
a multinational ovation. Not a Communist athlete, just a magnificent
Seattle plans to stage these games in four years. With
organization and Turner money to coax in a wider range of nations,
they can certainly improve. Yet since engendering goodwill is their
avowed mission, four years seems a long time to wait. END

Photo(s): TONY TOMSIC Omeliantchik's soaring symmetry helped the Soviet women dominatein gymnastics.

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