Barry Davies' Olympic Moments: An Eastern Bloc battle

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Yelena Shushunova (right)

In a 10-part series, BBC broadcaster Barry Davies recalls the most memorable Olympic moments of his 44 years on air from the Games.

The Seoul 1988 Olympics played host to one of the greatest battles of nerve between two young women.

One hailed from the Soviet Union, the other from Romania, and the gap which ultimately separated them was 0.025 points - out of nearly 80.

In women's gymnastics, you have four pieces of apparatus to complete in a final, and these two went around together: Yelena Shushunova representing the Soviet Union, who had already won the team final, and Daniela Silivas from Romania.

There had always existed a huge rivalry between Romania and the Soviet Union, particularly in gymnastics, and that still exists to this day - even though the Americans began to have a say soon after this Olympics, and have done ever since.

Behind the Iron Curtain, as it was then, coaches found gymnasts at a very young age then trained them and trained them, sacrificing a great deal.

All of that sacrifice was given for one cause: the Olympic final. There these two women were - Shushunova 19 years old, Silivas just 16 - and they had reached the halfway stage.

Silivas led by that same narrow margin of 0.025, which was no gap at all, with just the floor and vault exercises remaining.

First, to the floor. Shushunova produced a beautiful routine and scored the maximum 10, but Silivas followed it with a routine that many people watching felt was even better.

Where could the judges go, though? They had already awarded the highest mark possible to Shushunova, so this had to be another 10.

The entire day-long final came down to the vault. Silivas went first and scored 9.950, almost top marks, but leaving the tiniest of gaps.

I will not forget the silence in the arena before the final performance from Shushunova. You could look up and compare the two: one sitting there to the side, praying, presumably, that the other will make a mistake. The other, having waited all the way through the competition to be the last performer, nerves tingling.

The whole feel of the place was remarkable. Down the runway comes Shushunova, she performs the vault, and the judges awarded her the perfect 10.

There was a huge roar but my focus was on the expressions of agony and ecstasy, which held me transfixed. It was the one score which would have handed Shushunova victory, and she had done it. That is the moment I remember, the climax of a marvellous competition and a personal duel.

Gymnastics is a mesmeric event, one I loved to cover, and I hope to see some this summer. Great Britain's advance in gymnastics has been good to see, and Team GB's gymnasts have real medal chances in 2012.

If Louis Smith is to win a gold medal on the pommel horse - which is a possibility, and he must decide whether he goes for broke or plays it safe - then the margin will be as thin as the one in 1988.

Unless, of course, everybody else falls off, and I wouldn't wish that on them. Would I?

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