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Li’s all-around prowess produces golden lining

Donghua Li Getty

The men's gymnastics individual all-around competition at Atlanta 1996 developed into to an absorbing clash between Russia’s Alexei Nemov and the reigning world champion Li Xiaoshuang of China.

When Li had clinched his world title a year earlier, he had predicted that the battle for the Olympic gold medal would be contested by him and Nemov. That assertion appeared somewhat dismissive of the reigning Olympic champion Vitaly Scherbo, but Li felt that the Belarusian’s chances had been diminished by his recent shoulder surgery. He turned out to be quite right, as Scherbo could only manage bronze, some way behind his two rivals.

Li himself was also an Olympic champion. He had made his Games debut four years earlier, winning a gold in the floor exercise, as well as silver in the team all-around and bronze in the rings. He had only managed fifth place in the individual all-around competition, but now, aged 22 and with a world title under his belt, his chances of success looked much better.

Li S All-around Prowess Produces Golden Lining Getty

However, Li got off to a patchy start in Atlanta. A bad mistake on the rings, contributed to China missing out on gold in the team all-around event, and they had to settle for silver.

By contrast, in the individual all-around competition, Li produced a series of faultless performances. He needed to be at his best, since Nemov was also in brilliant form over the first five of six rotations. Going into the final rotation, the Russian held the lead and looked to be on course for gold but, in the sixth rotation, things took a dramatic turn.

Nemov made a mistake during his floor exercise routine while Li delivered a superb display on the high bar. He scored 9.787 while Nemov earned just 9.7. The difference proved crucial, with Li taking the gold medal by a margin of 0.049 points. It marked the pinnacle of his career, as he retired from gymnastics shortly afterwards.

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