1969 Japan MAG USSR WAG

1969: Olga Korbut’s Win at the Japan vs. USSR Dual Meet

At the 1969 European Championships, Mikhail Voronin was looking ahead to the competition between Japan and the Soviet Union. However, he didn’t end up competing in the meet.

But you know who did compete? 14-year-old Olga Korbut.

And you know who won the meet? Olga Korbut.

Let’s take a look at what happened and watch some of her routines…

Länderkampf BR Deutschland, UdSSR und Kanada 1972 in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Lyudmila Turishcheva (li.) und Olga Korbut (beide UdSSR) Countries struggle BR Germany USSR and Canada 1972 in Schwäbisch Gmünd Lyudmila Turishcheva left and Olga Korbut both USSR

Note: This photo is not from 1972 — not the 1969 dual meet with Japan.

News Article

Here’s a Soviet newspaper’s recounting of the event:

The meeting between the Japanese and Soviet national gymnastics teams this year may not be of fundamental importance from a sporting point of view, as the squads were mostly new members and the team championship was not contested. But the fact that the performances of the young gymnasts were of great benefit to both sides is beyond any doubt.

It is difficult to say who will benefit more from this meeting in the near future. In the routines of the Japanese, we saw a lot of interesting things, especially on high bar, parallel bars, and on floor exercise, where composition and ease of execution were perfectly combined. And the exercises of our young gymnasts! The audience could not help but notice that, with any approach of the Soviet gymnasts, the cameras of the Japanese immediately began filming. By the way, three professional cameramen were part of the Japanese delegation. The baggage of films recorded in Ljubljana, Berlin, and the USSR, apparently, will not just lie on the shelves of storage facilities.

The girls, as expected, had Soviet athletes in the lead. The winner was 15-year-old* O. Korbut (74.85), a find of the current season, followed by T. Lazakovich (74.65) and L. Tourischeva (74.6).

There were no surprises among the men. E. Kenmotsu who was the leader after the compulsory program became the winner (114.15), A. Maleev (113.4) who took the second place, and S. Kasamatsu (113.05) who was the third should also be admitted as successful. The “testing out” of young athletes took place. We are looking forward to the official world championship, which will be held in Ljubljana next year. Who won more from the current meeting will be seen in Yugoslavia. Right now, we can say that gymnastics won.

Izvestiia ,  No.261, November  04, 1969


Встреча сборных команд Японии и СССР по гимнастике в этом году, может быть, и не имеет принципиального значе­ния со спортивной точки зрения, так как в составах были в основном новые име­на и командное первенство не опреде­лялось. Но тот факт, что выступления молодых гимнастов принесли несомнен­ную пользу для обеих сторон, не вызы­вает никакого сомнения.

Трудно сейчас сказать, кто будет в большем выигрыше от этой встречи в скором будущем. В упражнениях японцев мы увидели много интересного, особенно на перекладине, брусьях, в вольных упражнениях, где прекрасно сочетались композиция и легкость исполнения. А упражнения наших молодых гимнасток! Зрители не могли не обратить внимания, что при любом подходе советских гим­насток сразу начинали работать киноаппараты японцев. Кстати, в составе деле рации Японии три профессиональ­ных кинооператора. Багаж кинолент, по­лученный в Любляне, Берлине и СССР, видимо, не будет просто лежать на пол­ках хранилищ.

У девушек, как и ожидалось, впереди были советские спортсменки. Победи­ те льницей стала 15-летняя О. Корбут (74.85), находка нынешнего сезона, далее Т. Лазакович (74.65) и Л. Тури­щева (74.6).

У мужчин неожиданностей не про­изошло. Лидер после обязательной про­граммы Э. Кенмотсу стал победителем (114.15), Успешным следует признать также и выступление А. Малеева (113.4), занявшего второе место, на третьем Ш. Касаматсу (113.05). «Обстрел» мо­лодых состоялся. Впереди официальный чемпионат мира, который состоится в Любляне в следующем году. Кто же больше выиграл от нынешней встречи и будет видно в Югославии. Сейчас мож­но сказать, выиграла гимнастика.

*Korbut would have been 14 at this competition. She turned 15 in May of 1970. 

Competition Footage

On the Men’s Side

Maleev on SR: The Voronin-style giant with straight arms had become the norm.

Kenmotsu on HB: The fragments show a fairly stock routine. A bar vault and a full-twisting hecht dismount.

On the Women’s Side

Tourischeva missed a cast handstand, which likely cost her the title.

A young pre-pig-tail Korbut performed a few of her signature skills. For example, she performed her standing tuck on beam.

Reminder: The beams were wooden without padding in 1969. For more on the evolution of apparatus norms, head over to this post.

As well as her standing layout as a dismount from the high bar.

My Thought Bubble: Contextualizing Korbut’s Skills

We tend to portray Korbut as a great disruptor, and in some ways, she was. That said, her gymnastics didn’t happen in a bubble. Her skills were part of larger trends in women’s gymnastics.

Take her dismount from bars. She was not the first to try to perform a salto off the apparatus. At the 1968 Olympics, Skleničková of Czechoslovakia did a cast front tuck, and Tanac of the United States performed her spank back/Tanac salto. (The skill had many names.)

Korbut’s layout from a sole circle was another way of incorporating a salto dismount off the bars. But here’s what Korbut did differently: she flipped over the low bar and thus, added an element of perceived risk.

The same is true of Korbut’s back tuck on beam. That skill was part of a broader trend in aerial acrobatics on beam. At the 1970 University Games, for example, an unnamed Hungarian gymnast performed an aerial cartwheel on beam:

One Hungarian girl performed an aerial cartwheel on the beam which made everyone who was watching gasp.

Mademoiselle Gymnast, Nov/Dec 1970

What Korbut did was add an element of risk: whereas you can see the beam the entire time during an aerial cartwheel, Korbut couldn’t see the beam during the first part of her back tuck, making the skill ostensibly riskier.

But, but, but: Remember that risk wasn’t encouraged in the women’s Code at the time. (It was encouraged in the Men’s Code.) In fact, Villancher, who was the president of the Women’s Technical Commitee, actively discouraged excessive risk.

Korbut on FX: You can watch part of her floor routine at the 1:04 mark below:

You can see that Korbut still needed to work on the refinement of her skills. Her layout step-out had bent knees, for example.

But in these videos, you can see that the spectators loved Korbut — even before the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Want More Olga Korbut in 1969?

Here’s a training video from 1969. You can see her training her Korbut flip on uneven bars.

After the Olympic Hopes competition in 1969, Smolevsky, the head coach of the Soviet men’s team, spoke about Korbut’s standing back tuck on beam. He said:

At these competitions, the young gymnast from Grodno, Olga Korbut, showed a unique element — a salto on the beam. This is a “record” for the gymnastics school of coach Renald Knysh: for a girl to perform such an element, a completely new system of training is needed — both in psychology (complete emancipation, complete freedom) and in motor skills … I could speak on this for a long time — for me, it is evidence of a very bold and qualified pursuit of creative thinking by our coaches.

На этих соревнованиях юная гимнастка из Гродно Ольга Корбут показала уникальный элемент — сальто на бревне. Это «рекорд» гимнастической школы тренера Ренальда Кныша: чтобы девочка выполнила такой элемент, нужна совершенно новая система воспитания — и в психологии (полная раскрепощенность, полная свобода), и в двигательных навыках… Не буду продолжать, так как об этом сальто я могу говорить долго — оно для меня свидетельство очень смелого и квалифицированного поиска творческой мысли наших тренеров.

Nedelia, September 1, 1969

Note: Korbut has accused Knysh of sexual assault. He has denied it.

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