Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008 | midnight
It's been more than a decade since Vitaly Scherbo has been in the international gymnastics spotlight.
The most decorated male Olympic gymnast of all time has spent the last 11 years in relative anonymity, living in northwest Las Vegas and introducing a new generation of athletes to the sport at his own gym, the Vitaly Scherbo School of Gymnastics.
But athletes of Scherbo's caliber are not easily forgotten. This spring, the native Russian will be inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
"If this would be happening 15 years ago, to tell you the truth, I wouldn't care," Scherbo said. "Now, the feeling is different. After so long, people still remember you and they want you to be remembered forever. So the feeling is happiness and appreciation for those who are putting me in the hall of fame."
Scherbo etched his place in gymnastics lore by winning six gold medals — team competition, all around, pommel horse, rings, vault and parallel bars — at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Only swimmers Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps have won more gold medals in a single Olympics.
Scherbo is also the only gymnast to have won a World or Olympic title in all eight men's gymnastic events.
"He was something else in gymnastics," said Radoslav Shopski, a coach at Scherbo's school. "I personally doubt someone else will achieve six gold medals in one Olympic games for gymnastics ever again. We hope we will see that kind of person again, but I doubt we will."
Scherbo, 36, ceased competing in 1997 after he broke his wrist and dislocated two fingers while landing awkwardly on the parallel bars during an exhibition performance in Sacramento, Calif.
He always had designs of opening his own gymnastics school and decided the time was right following the career-ending injury.
Scherbo initially investigated Phoenix as a city to build his gym and even had land picked out in Arizona. But before he began building, Scherbo decided to look at Las Vegas as a possible site as well. It turned out, Southern Nevada proved to be an even better option.
"It was amazing," Scherbo recalls. "There were no gymnastics schools and the city was growing big time. So I changed my mind and built the school up here. Gymnastics is the one thing I know most. I thought I could be an asset to the kids in the community up here."
Scherbo's gym was complete in 1998. He said he initially served as coach for all levels, as well as a secretary, receptionist and finance manager. After great growth a decade later, Scherbo has 20 employees working at the gym currently has about 500 pupils.
Today, Scherbo said he enjoys being a normal coach in Southern Nevada, not an icon.
"Half of the kids in my gym don't even know who I am," he said. "Even if they know the owner is some kind of geek in gymnastics, they don't know exactly who I am. In the gym, I'm a normal coach like everyone else."
But Scherbo's fame is not lost on everyone in Southern Nevada.
Frank Grillo, a freshman at College of Southern Nevada, is Scherbo's oldest student after 10 years of working with him. Grillo said he still has a hard time believing who his coach is.
"It's like a dream," Grillo said. "I look on the old videos and say, 'Wow, that's my coach right there!' He's teaching me now. It's amazing. The older students here try to tell the younger ones who he is and what's he's accomplished."
Scherbo downplays the record-setting performance he put on in Barcelona 16 years ago..
"Part of it was being in the right place at the right time and getting lucky with some things," Scherbo said. "The other part is all the hard work. In the half year before the Olympics, we worked six hours a day in Russia. If my kids here knew how we were working they would say we were crazy. Even a monkey or bear or any animal would win the Olympic games after the workouts we did."
But after being off the world gymnastics stage for so long, Scherbo said he will enjoy a chance to rekindle old memories when he is enshrined with the rest of the sport's greatest athletes.
"It will be nice to be on top of the world again when the people are applauding you and congratulating you — just to be in this spot like I was a long time ago," he said. "I am looking forward to it."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].