March 5, 1976. Gymnastics connoisseurs cannot remember such a national championships in the last few years where the events of one evening have changed so suddenly and dramatically. There were so many failures in the compulsory competition. We have not seen anything like it in quite some time.

In the team championships, the leaders of Army Club and Dinamo grouped their forces - and they each have two teams entered - to create one team that is very strong. It's not yet known who will get the gold medal, but so far the gymnasts from Armed Forces-1 are ahead of Dinamo.

Who, in the absence of N. Andrianov and A. Dityatin, would be able to assume the burden of leadership? We asked several coaches this question. Many said P. Shamugiya (Tbilisi), V. Klimenko (Moscow), V. Marchenko (Grozny), V. Safronov (Lvov). They are all well-known names. And don't forget the bronze medalist at the VI People's Spartakiade, F. Kulaksizov (Dnepropetrovsk). The senior coach of the USSR team, Leonid Arkaev, was the only one who asked us to follow V. Markelov (Moscow), an 18-year-old soldier in the Soviet army who recently competed in a control competition for national team memebers.

Yes, the evening brought a lot of excitement, especially to all of the coaches. For a moment, they all had hope that their pupils would grab one of the top places. But there was utter confusion in the camp of the leading group. It wasn't until the third rotation that things cleared up a little - V. Boiko (Moscow region) and N. Nedbalski (Minsk) had the lead. But again, it was only temporary.

Klimenko, the Olympic champion, entered into a heated argument as usual. A distinctive feature of Viktor is full commitment during his performance. Viktor doesn't know how to work at half strength - that's his character. On pommel horse, the event he won in Munich but which has given him so much trouble since, Klimenko scored well - 9.2. And then a strange thing happened - on rings he missed a cross to score 8.8, and on vault he nearly missed a hand which messed up his trajectory (7.1). You should have seen his despair.

P. Shamugiya fell on his pommel horse dismount, V. Marchenko had problems on vault. V. Saifulin performed an odd exercise on rings. F. Kulaksizov flunked both floor and vault. Low scores, like from a horn of plenty, showered down on our Olympic candidates.

No, not everything was bad. The failures of the famous masters of sport were replaced by beautiful execution on other apparatus. But there were still too many errors. We believe this is an alarming situation in the first stage for the selection of the Olympic team. Preparedness for the compulsory exercises is not yet at the summit.

Against this background, V. Markelov stood out, a thin gymnast with clean lines. Although he escaped an average of less than 9 points, on the whole Markelos still showed "school" penmanship. Yes, he is young and unknown, but he is a talented gymnast. What he is lacking is stability.

We cannot predict the future, but one thing is clear after watching Vladimir's baptism. In the tense atmosphere, he was able to stay calm as his young coach P. Popov wanted him to. Popov is a judicious and firm man, a new mentor to appear in our gymnastics family.

In the end, P. Shamugiya finished second and his coach G. Burdzhanadze breathed a sigh of relief. Markelov politely didn't accept congratulations. He knows what awaits him on this difficult path.

Technical results
USSR Championships of gymnastics, Tbilisi, Sports Palace, March 3
Men, compulsory program

1. V. Markelov (Armed Forces) - 54.75 (8.9, 9.1, 9.4, 8.85, 9.3, 9.2)
2. P. Shamugiya (Dinamo) - 54.35 (9.2, 8.85, 9.15, 9.4, 9.1, 8.85)
3. E. Mikaelyan (Burevestnik) - 54.3 (8.95, 9.3, 9.3, 8.8, 9.1, 8.85)
4. V. Marchenko (Dinamo) - 54.15
4. V. Safronov (Armed Forces) - 54.15
6. V. Boiko (Armed Forces) - 53.45
6. P. Mikaelyan (Burevestnik) - 53.45

1. Armed Forces-1
2. Dinamo-1
3. Armed Forces-2
4. Dinamo-2
5. Burevestnik
6. Zenit