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Thursday, July 19, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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U.S. Fortunes Hang On High Bar -- Soviet Men Favored To Take Home Gold

The U.S. men's gymnastics team doesn't care which Soviets take the floor in tomorrow night's opening competition. The Americans figure their high-bar routines will give them a shot at a medal.

Maybe it won't be the gold - the Soviets are expected to place first - but the U.S. team expects its strongest finish since it won the team gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

``We're really fired up,'' said John Roethlisberger, the top qualifying American and winner of the U.S. national all-around title in June. ``Our country has sent its very best.''

Because international rules allow coaches to wait until 24 hours before the competition to declare a lineup, the Soviets will wait until late this afternoon to reveal the seven eligible athletes who will take the floor for tomorrow night's 5:45 team competition at the Tacoma Dome.

The U.S. team of Roethlisberger, Chris Waller, Lance Ringnald and Trent Dimas must turn in solid performances to score a bronze, said Ed Burch, one of three U.S. coaches. With the top three scores composing the team total, it won't matter which Soviets compete - not even world champion Igor Korobchinski or European champ Valentin Mogilni.

``The Russians brought their very best,'' Burch said, appraising the U.S. prospects after a workout yesterday at the Dome. ``But if we have a good meet, this is the team that can do it.''

The partisan crowd, American-made floor and underdog status could help the prospects of the team, the U.S. foursome said. They want the chance to lure newcomers to the sport by wowing spectators and TV commentators, and they are eager to do what they can to shed their team's reputation as a talented but inexperienced squad.

``American crowds have a tendency to be real into it,'' Ringnald said. He proved he was the American with the most international experience yesterday by staying after his workout to renew friendships with competitors.

While the Chinese and East Germans will be prime contenders for team and individual medals, the Soviets, who swept the events at the 1986 Goodwill Games, are the stars of the meet.

The Americans are not shying from that challenge.

``If anything, the Soviets affect us in a positive way in that they bring out the best in us,'' Ringnald said.

The strongest event for the United States is expected to be the high bars, where Ringnald and Dimas will try new routines. That could be the difference between a team medal - or a dismal finish.

``That will be the most exciting to watch,'' Burch said. ``The United States has some pretty amazing things. Our high bar will stand out more at this event.''

The high bar is the fourth of the six events for the U.S. team. The squad competes first among the 11 teams in three events, which is considered a hindrance because judges are known to be tougher scorers early in a competition.

Burch still expects to place third, with the Americans qualifying two athletes, the maximum, for the individual events final Sunday.

For that competition, the top eight competitors from tomorrow's team competition will advance. Saturday's all-around title will be contested among the top 16 from Friday, with no more than two athletes per country.

Scores aren't carried over.

Spain, Bulgaria, Great Britain and Mexico only have one athlete entered, but they would advance to the all-around or individual competitions even if other nations, after qualifying two, have higher-scoring gymnasts.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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