TACOMA, WASH., JULY 29 -- It seems that nothing is a sure bet anymore in international sports. The United States loses a game in men's basketball; the East German women and U.S. men no longer are invincible in swimming; the Chinese have caught up to and passed the Americans in diving.

But, in gymnastics, there is eternal order. Where there is a beam, there is balance. The competitions change, the years and athletes come and go, but the Soviets almost always win. What's more, they overwhelm the teams from other nations. If they have four athletes in a major international meet, they usually take the top four places. They are that good.

"It boils down to training," said U.S. Coach Bela Karolyi, who coached in Romania before defecting to the United States. "Behind all the great performances is the training, still the training."

Tonight, a week after the Soviet men won everything they possibly could win in the Goodwill Games, the Soviet women slipped up just once, winning almost everything. Three Soviet gymnasts won gold medals in three events tonight: world champion Svetlana Boguinskaia tied with teammate Natalia Kalinina to win the floor exercise; Goodwill Games individual all-around champion Kalinina won the balance beam and 15-year-old Oksana Chusovitina won the vault. China's Xia Zhang upset Kalinina on the uneven parallel bars. In all, Kalinina won medals in every event: two golds and two silvers.

American national champion Kim Zmeskal of Houston, competing with an injured and taped left wrist, won two bronze medals, one on the uneven bars, the other on the floor exercise. Betty Okino, who is from Chicago and trains in Houston, finished fourth on the uneven bars and sixth on both the floor and balance beam.

"We are fielding a very young and fairly inexperienced team," said Karolyi. "We put them up against the strongest competition in the world, the Soviets. It was a great achievement to win those medals."

At the Goodwill Games, the Soviets were deemed to be so overwhelming that the rules were changed to prevent them from winning all the gymnastics medals. Usually, a team is comprised of six gymnasts, and three qualify for individual competition, meaning one country could sweep the medals.

But the Goodwill Games rules, set by the international gymnastics federation, say each country is allowed just four gymnasts and can qualify only two per event, avoiding sweeps and, perhaps, sustaining interest.

Call it the Soviet rule. There's a reason for it. The Soviets won every gold medal available at the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow. The Soviet women, as a team, have lost only two international competitions ever, in 1979 and 1986, both to the Romanians. They've never lost an Olympics they competed in. And they never plan to.

This is a system of interchangeable parts. Even with four Soviet women here, there are believed to be perhaps as many as 20 back home who could have performed just as well. For a competition such as this, a bit below the major international level, the Soviets send two of their top gymnasts (Boguinskaia and Kalinina) and two up-and-coming juniors (Chusovitina and Tatiana Lisenko, who finished third in team competition Friday night, then was pulled out to make way for Boguinskaia).

There are layers and layers of wonderful Soviet gymnasts the world may never see.

"I try not to have any favorites on the team," said Soviet Coach Alexandre Aleksandrov.

The Soviet domination is the same on an individual basis. In the last 24 major international competitions (either world championships or Olympics), a Soviet woman has been the individual all-around champion 18 times.

The most interesting thought of all is of the three Soviet women who competed tonight, not one may be around at next year's world championships in Indianapolis or the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

The evening began with Chusovitina, who wasn't even mentioned in the gymnastics media guide and finished last among the Soviets in the team competition Friday, winning the vault with a score of 9.962 points. The silver medal went to Kalinina (9.918). Romanian Gina Gogean (9.874) was third.

The Soviets did not win a gold in the uneven bars where they were the weakest in team competition. Only one Soviet qualified for the event -- Kalinina -- and she finished second. Zhang won the gold with 9.962 points; Kalinina had 9.912 and Zmeskal won the bronze with 9.900. Okino was fourth with 9.887.

Boguinskaia, the world champion who has not performed up to par here, made her debut on the balance beam and won a bronze. She was beaten out of the gold by Kalinina (9.962) and Wenning Zhang (9.950) of China. Boguinskaia's routine was flawless until she hopped out of her dismount and received a 9.937.

But she came back with a strong performance on the floor and was tied by Kalinina, who had received a 10 on her floor exercise Saturday. Tonight both women received 9.962 and Zmeskal received 9.912.

Not surprisingly, Aleksandrov wasn't willing to reveal how or why the Soviets keep doing this.

"We're probably training well," he said. "What else can I say?"

"He is right," said Karolyi. "But then there is the tremendous tradition they have. No question about it: Having continuous strong individuals is a tremendous incentive for the young ones. We saw it in this country. We have a star in Mary Lou {Retton} and then the young ones come up like little mushrooms, Phoebe {Mills}, Kristie {Phillips} and now the little ones here. They are growing from mushrooms real fast."