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AN EXPERT'S VIEW // BART CONNER

Bart Conner, who won two gold medals at the 1984 Olympics, has worked for several years as an analyst for ABC. He recently married famed gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Conner shared his thoughts about the men's gymnastics competition with Times Staff Writer Ernest Hooper.

There are going to be a lot of great stories coming out of the Olympics involving gymnastics, both men's and women's.

In men's gymnastics, the team competition will be intense. China is the two-time world champion. Technically and artistically, the Chinese have been the best for a long time, but they have been inconsistent until now.

At the past two world championships, they finally hit their routines. They just killed everybody in Dortmund (Germany) in '94 and Sabae (Japan) in '95.

Russia won't let the Chinese run off with it, however. The past couple of years they have struggled with the government transition and the lack of support compared to what they used to get with the socialists. The Russians have wanted to go out and perform in exhibitions and the officials are trying to hold the kids in camp and keep them focused. There's a little tension going on there.

The other two teams competing for the medals will be the Ukraine and Belarus.

The American men could end up anywhere from third to ninth. It depends on 1) how well they deliver, and 2) the hard-to-quantify home-floor factor. If the American men perform well, they should be in fourth or fifth and the home factor could maybe move them up to third. They are a real big question mark.

They are a talented team, but they have struggled to build momentum. At the world championships last year, they were in third place after the compulsories and everyone was saying, "Wow, they're that good? The U.S. men are back." But in the optional exercises they dropped to ninth because they didn't have the level of difficulty they needed in their routines.

They have the ability to contend and Peter Kormann is a great coach. He's trying to rally the team and add the level of difficulty the team needs to compete with the Russians and Chinese. They are pretty maxed out on the hard tricks.

China's Li Xiaoshuang won the individual all-around at the world championships, but there's always Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus. I would never count that guy out. He's just a focused and intense competitor. The one weakness he has is his performance on the still rings.

Another gymnast who is very exciting is Russia's Alexei Nemov. He's very interesting because he's very tall for a gymnast at 5 feet 10.

I think the American men could medal in a couple of individual events. Jair Lynch has a routine on the parallel bars that's remarkable. He can compete with those guys. And I would like to think John Roethlisberger has a few routines that have a shot.

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