1969 Interviews & Profiles USSR

1969: Head Coaches Larisa Latynina and Vladimir Smolevsky on the USSR Championships

After the USSR Championships in October of 1969, the Moscow newspaper Nedelia interviewed the head coaches of the women’s and men’s national teams: Larisa Latynina and Vladimir Smolevsky.

But instead of asking them about their respective teams, Latynina had to comment on men’s gymnastics, and Smolevsky had to comment on women’s gymnastics. It’s fascinating to see what each coach admires about the other discipline and what irks them, as well. For example, Smolevsky despises “bad ballet” on floor.

What follows is a translation of their remarks. (Thanks to Luba for her assistance.)


Senior coaches of the country’s women’s and men’s national teams Larisa Latynina and Vladimir Smolevsky comment on the results of the USSR gymnastics championship.

This time we decided to do it this way:

– Larisa Semyonovna, please share your impressions of the performance of male gymnasts, and with Vladimir Mikhailovich, we will talk about women.

LATYNINA: I just don’t know, will everyone agree with me? .. We have very talented young athletes — Maleev, Ilinykh, whose performances delight the eye with the completeness of their lines, the perfection of their technique. But in men’s gymnastics, besides the perfection of lines, one wants to see courageous sport, courage, risk and … maturity. I find the performances of Viktor Lisitsky and Sergei Diomidov more interesting.  Lisitsky turned thirty at these championships, Diomidov is now twenty-six. In my opinion, this is the best age for a gymnast, when a master becomes a grandmaster, performing confidently and strongly.

– And youthful ease, isn’t it attractive?

LATYNINA: Ease is admirable when you clearly understand what colossal difficulty lies behind it. Remember how Azaryan performed the “cross” on the rings? He was smiling! But his smile only emphasized the difficulty of the exercise — difficult for everyone except him, because he is a master. This is what commands respect. And our boys act with a kind of superfluous ease, as it seems to me. Maybe that’s why their movements on floor are not interesting.

It is on this event that the individuality of the athlete is revealed especially clearly. The imperfection of the men’s floor exercise is striking. What to do? Maybe gymnasts need to include more choreographic elements in their compositions? In my opinion, no way! Where will we end up if our guys spruce up the compositions with pirouettes and spectacular poses! During the minute and change that the gymnast is given to compete on floor, he must move, without losing a moment, constantly increasing the difficulty of the movement, as if there is a spring inside of him that keeps unwinding, so that by the end of the routine, it can unwind into the most spectacular move.

– This is not only technique, but also emotions!

LATYNINA: Of course. But it’s good if inspiration comes at the right moment, and not ahead of time, as sometimes happens. For example, Sergei Diomidov — this time he performed very confidently, which was not usual for him before. Sergei seemed to me sometimes somewhat phlegmatic: however, maybe he, like Polina Astakhova, knows how to hide the feelings raging in his soul? Our young champion Lyuba Burda also does not give the impression of an emotional person during her performance, but look at her among her friends — the life of the party!

– Larisa Semyonovna, you are talking about women.

SMOLEVSKY: Yes, please, I will talk about Burda. And with pleasure, because I like her. I don’t know what kind of person Lyuba is, but her coach Yuri Eduardovich Shtukman claims that he knows her well: Lyuba is only sixteen years old, she is growing, changing, maturing.

Now one thing is clear: Lyuba Burda and her coach had a great victory. The upbringing of such a gymnast was Shtuckman’s experiment. There were controversies around the most complex elements that she performed: was it necessary or not, was it possible or not. They said that this girl was brought up as a boy, that she was inelegant, unemotional. But her victory proved the coach was right and it showed the direction for educating/raising others. And the boyish girl, meanwhile, became feminine, like all the gymnasts of our Soviet school. Even if Petrik and Karaseva are completely different from Burda, this is good: let them be different, we have always strived for this.

And here’s what else I like. No matter how much I have to watch girls perform on the balance beam, I am always amazed by their poise. How much strength is needed not to fall from this apparatus — what a test for a girl’s nerves! On another event, the loss of nerves can always be somehow compensated for, but here it is not. To perform properly in this type of program, you need true peace of mind. And when Burda gently, calmly performs a flip on beam, I see a tremendous job done by a fragile girl.

– Remember, the TV commentator who reported on the championship mentioned that girls aged 14-15 are children who are not aware of the colossal nervous weight that is inevitable during such competitions …

LATYNINA and SMOLEVSKY (almost unanimously): No, even children are perfectly aware of everything!

LATYNINA: I was convinced that a person does not change over the years: either he was born an athlete-fighter, or he will never become one. Sometimes you see: you went out onto the platform, under the fire of thousands of eyes and, as the saying goes, “eyes looking at different directions.” And then he learned to control himself so that no one will see his eyes, but the confusion, although hidden, remains, you cannot hide it from yourself. And the other kid, on the contrary, calmly does his job.

SMOLEVSKY: Sport makes the thin ones thick, and the thick ones thin. The timid teaches himself to control himself, and the sluggish – to be more energetic. I think that training can only achieve some balance, but this is already very good, because it is not for nothing that they say that habit is second nature.

– We got distracted from talking about women.

SMOLEVSKY: How so? All this also has to do with women. I liked Larisa Petrik less than usual at these competitions – she admired herself too much, but Burda did not admire herself. She has not yet learned this, thank God. At the national championship, I had to see how the entire Ukrainian team performed floor choreography in the operetta spirit, and the entire Kazakh team — in the classical one. Or even worse: the nature of the choreography is imposed on the athlete, which is completely alien for her. They are forced to take on an unpleasant emotional load — to act out a tragedy on the floor, the kind of passions that she has no idea about. It’s not even necessary. Why replace sport with bad ballet? Please note that Olga Karaseva’s floor routine only hints at the nature of Russian dance. Just a hint, but the essence of her movements — the most difficult acrobatics. This is one of the best compositions of the championship.

– Do you think men gymnasts have a lot to learn from women?

SMOLEVSKY: Certainly. The “Burda twirl” – I am surprised. Why haven’t any of the guys used this element! And there is no need to talk about the manner of performing floor exercise: male gymnasts sometimes act as if it was only here, in front of the judges, that they finally began to polish the details of their routines. And women know how to present the most elementary movements as if it were a great discovery. This art can be found sometimes not only in sports, but in different life situations — and it is not harmful for us to learn.

Nedelia,  No.43, October  20, 1969
The Burda Twirl

The All-Around Results – Top 5

For men’s artistic gymnastics at the USSR Nationals:

  1. Sergei Diomidov, 113.325
  2. Viktor Lisitsky, 112.650
  3. Aleksandr Maleev, 111.900
  4. Mikhail Bogus, 111.525
  5. Leonid Arkaev, 110.875

For women’s artistic gymnastics at the USSR Nationals:

  1. Lyubov Burda, 76.150
  2. Larisa Petrik, 75.900
  3. Ludmilla Tourischeva, 75.025
  4. Olga Karaseva, 75.625
  5. Olga Korbut, 74.425

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