TACOMA, WASH., JULY 28 -- Invoking a rule that only international women's gymnastics would have, the Soviet Union inserted its superstar and world champion, Svetlana Boguinskaia, into tonight's individual all-around competition at the Goodwill Games -- after she did not qualify for it.
The Soviets then expected to sit back and watch Boguinskaia win the prestigious individual title at the Tacoma Dome.
But, in a twist that no obscure rule could change, another Soviet won.
Natalia Kalinina, a 4-foot-8, 68-pound 16-year-old from the Ukraine, surprised everyone, herself included, with a victory tonight. She earned 39.836 points, including a perfect 10 on the floor exercise, to 39.799 for Boguinskaia. Hungary's Henrietta Onodi won the bronze (39.348).
"I never thought I could beat Boguinskaia," Kalinina said, "but I hoped. . . . I have one feeling of just great happiness."
American Betty Okino finished fourth (39.298) and teammate Kim Zmeskal, whom the U.S. team was hoping would win, finished a disappointing sixth with 39.074 points.
"We lost a tremendous opportunity tonight to show the American public eye what we could do," said U.S. Coach Bela Karolyi. "It was a rough night. There was pretty good pressure on them. But, as I think about it, it probably is good for these gymnasts to go through this."
Rule 6.14 in the gymnastics rulebook made the Soviet intramural competition possible. It says that a country may replace one gymnast with another for the all-around competition, for no other reason than that it wants to. The rules also say a country may qualify only two competitors from team competition for the individual all-around. Boguinskaia, 17, fell off the uneven parallel bars early Friday evening and couldn't recover to beat Kalinina and Tatiana Lisenko. But Soviet officials didn't want Kalinina and Lisenko in tonight's competition; they wanted Boguinskaia and Kalinina. So, they told Lisenko to take the night off.
"That is ridiculous," said Karolyi, never at a loss for words. "We know that rule means only if there is an injury, and there is no injury."
Boguinskaia, who at 5 foot 3 towers over the others, fell behind Kalinina after the first event of the night, in which Boguinskaia performed on the uneven parallel bars and Kalinina, on the vault. Boguinskaia received a 9.950 and didn't even begin to waver after Friday's fall. But Kalinina was almost perfect on the vault, scoring 9.987.
On to the next rotation they moved, Kalinina scoring 9.937 on the uneven bars, Boguinskaia, 9.887 on the balance beam. Boguinskaia wavered twice, teetering especially to regain her balance at the end of three consecutive backward flips.
But then Boguinskaia began to make her move. She went to the floor exercise in the third rotation, while Kalinina moved to the beam and received a 9.912, with a waver or two, but no mistakes.
But Boguinskaia, the Katarina Witt of gymnastics, shined during her waltz over the blue carpet in the floor exercise. She bobbed and floated to a sultry musical routine and earned a 9.975 to cut the margin between the two to a scant .024. With Boguinskaia on the vault, perhaps her favorite event, and Kalinina on the floor, it appeared the world champion would pull out the victory.
But Kalinina, who finished second at the American Cup at George Mason University in March to Zmeskal, won the competition with a perfect 10 on the floor exercise, her last event. Boguinskaia received a 9.987 on her vault to end the program.
The battle between the two Soviets obscured the performances of the two Americans in the competition, U.S. champion Zmeskal and newcomer Okino, one of the very few black women to compete at this level.
Zmeskal, who is 14 and absolutely pint-sized (4 foot 5 and 72 pounds, after dessert), was the top scorer during Friday's team competition. Had she won here, it would have been her international coming-out party. Instead, she fell off her first apparatus of the evening -- the uneven parallel bars -- and never recovered from the relatively bad score of 9.337 (.5 is deducted for a fall).
Zmeskal had come close to Boguinskaia once before, finishing just .025 behind the Soviet legend at a meet in France in March. She hoped this was to be the night when the balance of power changed in this sport, but Kalinina snuck up and spoiled it for both of them.
Okino, 15, performed much better than expected. She watched Zmeskal fall off the uneven bars and then had trouble there herself, hitting the lower bar with her left leg as she twirled from the top bar.
Said Karolyi: "She is used to being in Kim's shadow, but it was like she said tonight, 'Why not?' . . . Today she took over herself."
Okino was steady on every apparatus, with no score lower than a 9.737 and no score higher than a 9.887. Zmeskal was buoyed by an almost flawless floor routine of 9.950 and a vault of 9.925.