CHAPEL HILL, N.C., JULY 23 -- Never brilliant but never missing a step or a dismount, Neil Palmer of Lincoln, Neb., won the U.S. Olympic Festival men's gymnastics all-around title on the sixth and final round tonight after losing the lead briefly to David St. Pierre of Los Angeles.

Palmer led after the opening round with an overall score of 56.8 points, including a 9.50 on the pommel horse. St. Pierre, who took the lead when he scored a 9.65 on the high bar, his favorite event, finished second with 56.7 points. Lance Ringnald of Albuquerque was 13th after the first round, but finished with a flawless floor routine to take third with 56.30.

Palmer said he wants to be a football player and, at 5 feet 10 and 165 pounds, he was the largest gymnast performing tonight. Leading by as much as a half-point at the outset, his advantage steadily dwindled, especially when he earned only 9.2 on the vault. After the first event, he scored 9.3 on the rings and 9.55 on the parallel bars.

For the final event, with St. Pierre up by .05, he and Palmer lined up next to each other to begin their events, Palmer on the high bar, St. Pierre on the floor exercise. Palmer didn't falter as he did a tucked half in-half out (double twist with half turn on each rotation). He scored a 9.75 in an event in which at least eight competitors fell and had to restart.

The crowd stood and cheered and St. Pierre knew Palmer scored well. He finished with a 9.60 on the floor, losing the overall title.

In volleyball, the North team, led by Scott Drake, defeated the West, 6-15, 15-5, 15-5, 15-4, to win the gold medal in front of 5,225 fans at Carmichael Auditorium.

The West, which had won a five-game match from the North in preliminary play, won the first game and seemed to be on its way to a fourth win and the gold.

"It was shaky at the start, but we just sat down {after the first game} and said, 'Let's give it our best shot,' " said Drake, who is an outside hitter at the University of California-Santa Barbara, but played at setter because the North team lost its setter to a foot injury Tuesday. "I just love the game. I'm not particular about what position I'm playing."

The North, which had more players from California than the West, also had a healthy Adam Lockwood to help the cause. One of the team's top outside hitters, Lockwood had been hampered by a sore hitting shoulder.

"We had a new lineup and that set them off," said the North's other excellent outside hitter, Lawrence Hom, who plays at USC. "Scott did a great job setting and really threw them off. The first game we were just trying to get used to each other. In the second, third and fourth, we just went through them."

In another game, the South defeated the East, 15-11, 16-14, 15-8. The South hadn't won a match until today and East captain Robert Pierce blamed the East's troubles on the loss of Hugh Foster, who was suspended and sent home Tuesday night for a dormitory rule violation.

"With the loss of Hugh Foster, it was hard to get a unit together," Pierce said. "With Hugh in there, we would have been in the gold medal match."

One of the three other players suspended was Carl Henkel of the North. He watched his team win the gold. He explained that the group had been out of their own rooms, visiting a friend, after the midnight curfew.

The North scored three goals in 54 seconds of the first period, setting a Festival record, and goalkeeper Brad Ryan shut out the West as the North won in field hockey, 8-0, in Greensboro, N.C.

Brad Jones of Michigan scored three goals and set up two by Jon Morris of Lowell, all in the third period, as the East outscored the South, 9-5, in the second game . . .

The board sailing competition, scheduled to begin today at Kerr Lake in Henderson, N.C., was canceled because of a lack of wind.