In 1970, four years after her last World Championships, Latynina published her autobiography titled Balance. The book is somewhat meandering, but it captures Latynina’s mentality as a gymnast and as a coach.
What follows is a translation of a book review, as well as a few quotes from the book itself.
The Book Review
HAND ON HEART
It happened that on the day when our gymnasts celebrated a double victory at the World Championships in Ljubljana (the gold for the team and the new all-around champion L. Turishcheva), I got a just-published book “Balance” by Larisa Latynina, the current head coach of the women’s national team of the USSR, in my hands. Even though she was not next to her students on the podium, our anthem was played in her honor, their awards were her awards, as well…
However, the awards are not the point. She received many of them for her performances. After all, there is, perhaps, no sports title that Latynina would not have won. Abroad, they once said to her:
Latynina writes: “In it (about sport – L. L.) you will not achieve beauty without labor, without heavy duties, without dozens of the most difficult ties… As long as there is strength to live in sport with all its difficulties, with all its fetters and ties, you will live in it.”
Latynina, who began her career in sports at school age in Kherson, continues it now. She does not receive awards — they are given to her mentees. However, those medals are probably no less important to her than the ones she wins personally. After all, she confirms that “the gymnastic spring,” as the author writes in the last chapter, “will never end. Yes, the spring continues, and the new champions, I am their coach…”
For Latynina, sport is inextricably linked to life, and this allows her to end on an optimistic note in her book. But more than one page in the book is about difficulties, without which there is no way to success, about forced asceticism, the bitterness of defeats, and tears that one tries not to show. Moreover, of course, about the joy of victories that delighted the whole world, about teammates, about those who led her to the heights of excellence, the heights of art — the school physical education teacher M. A. Sotnicheiko and the coach of the country assembly A. S. Mishakov. It should be said that not all pages of her book are written smoothly, the author’s thought is not always clear enough, but it captures what Latynina reveals about sports life, as they say, putting your hand on your heart. She cares about the relationship between coach and student, and the ritual of admission to the national team, and the process of becoming a team player. She shares her thoughts about the glory of the athlete in his duty, about the high honor of representing the Soviet homeland abroad… In short, the book, which which has not been in print for long, introduces the reader to the bright and diverse world of sports.
However, here we should mention that there are more and more such books. “Balance” is another in the “Sports and Personality” series published by “Molodaya Gvardiya” Publishing House. Many famous athletes and coaches have already appeared in this series. This would be a good time to tell everyone who loves sports: read these interesting books. I am afraid that it is not so easy to do: they are sold out immediately, despite the one hundred thousand copies. And that is the best estimation.
L. LEBEDEV.Pravda, No. 324, Nov. 20, 1970
ПOЛOЖA РУКУ НA CEРДЦE
Случилось так, что тот день, когда наши гимнастки на первенстве мира в Любляна
праздновала двойную победу («золото» и у команды, и у новой абсолютной чемпионки Л. Турищевой), иве в руки попала только что вышедшая из печати книга «Равновесие» Ларисы Латыниной — нынешнего старшего тренера женской сборной СССР. И хотя ее не было рядом с воспитанницами на пьедестале почета, наш гимн звучал и в ее честь, их награды были и ее наградами…
Впрочем, не в наградах дело. За свои выступления она получила их множество. Ведь
нет, пожалуй, спортивного титула, которого бы не завоевывала Латынина. За рубежом как-то сказали ей:
Латынина пишет: «В нем (а спорте.— Л. Л.) не достигнешь красоты без труда, без тяжелых обязанностей, без Десятков сложнейших уз… Пока есть силы для того, чтобы жить а спорте со всеми его трудностями, со веема оковами и узами, вы будете жать в нем».
Латынина, начав свой путь в спорте со школьного возраста в Херсоне, продолжает его и сейчас. Она не получает наград—их вручают ее подопечным. Во, наверное, эти медали не менее дороги для нее, чем завоёванные лично. Ведь она подтверждают, что «гимнастическая весна,— как пишет автор в последней Главе,—никогда не закончится». Да, весну продолжают а новые чемпионки, я ах тренер…
Для Латыниной спорт неразрывно связав с жизнью, и это позволяет ей закончить на
оптимистической ноте свою книгу. Но не одна страница в ней — о трудностях, без которых нет пути к успеху, о вынужденном аскетизме, горечи поражений, слезах, которые стараются не показывать. И, конечно, о радости побед, восхищавших весь мир, о товарищах по команде, о тех, кто вел ее к вершинам мастерства, вершинам искусства—школьном учителе физкультуры М. А. Сотничеико и тренере сборкой страны А. С. Мишакове. Следует сказать, что не все страницы ее книги написаны ровно, не всегда мысль автора прослеживается достаточно четко, во подкупает, что Латынина рассказывает о спортивной жизни откровение, как говорится, положа
руку на сердце. Eе волнуют и взаимоотношения тренера и ученика, и ритуал приема в члены сборной, и процесс становления команды. Она делится своими раздумьями о
славе спортсмена в его долге, о высокой чести представлять Советскую Родину за рубежом… Короче говоря, книга, каких в общем-то издано пока не так уж много, вводит читателя в яркий и многообразный мир спорта.
Здесь, однако, надо оговориться: таких книг становится больше. «Равновесие» —очередная в серии «Спорт и личность», выпускаемой издательством «Молодая гвардия». В этой серии уже выступили многие известные спортсмены и тренеры. Здесь бы в самый раз. сказать всем, кто любит спорт: прочтите эти интересные книжки. Однако опасаюсь, что сделать это не так-то просто: расходятся они моментально, несмотря на стотысячный тираж. А это — лучшая оценка.
A Few Quotes from the Book
Latynina started in ballet, and when the dancer Lepeshinskaya came to town, she had the opportunity to see her perform. Afterward, she saw the physical sacrifice behind the beauty of the performance.
And because of the connections of our teacher, we made it to the show of the great dancer Lepeshinskaya who performed in our town only once. If there was a question of “Will I be able to do this?” in the first minutes of the show, then it disappeared, like my whole surroundings disappeared and I saw only the stage. It was then that I truly saw, for the first time, what is called “wonderful world of movement.” Yes, it was a new, beautiful, dazzling world and when the show ended it was hard to believe that one person brought us there.
After this evening, I’ve seen quite a lot of the shows by our internationally famous ballet. I’ve seen the best dancers of our country on stage — great masters, every one of them a phenomenon in the world’s art. I’ve seen ballets in New York, London, Paris, Havana… But I remembered this ballet with Lepeshinskaya for the rest of my life.
For the first time I saw how a woman who does not say a word on the stage fascinates, carries away, makes people forget about everything. What was her secret? The show ended late, but I was unable to leave without seeing the dancer. Fortunately, it was already warm outside, and we (I and a few other girls) could safely wait for her at the service entrance. We did not have flowers, we weren’t even aware that we could ask for an autograph. We just waited, we could not leave without seeing the one who recently transferred us so easily to the wonderful world when she’s now back on Earth.
And when she came out and we saw her stressed, tired face, bandaged arms and legs, but still as beautiful as on that stage, we had a chance to look behind the scenes out of the corner of the eye, we touched the secret of her mastery, we felt the enormous work behind it. We parted silently, not talking about what we were just thinking.
Many years later I learned from a newspaper that Lepeshinskaya was following gymnastics competitions and she liked my floor routines. And I’m glad that now I can tell her how much her show meant for me.
Latynina’s mother and coach were insistent that she finish high school before moving away for gymnastics.
Competing according to the new rules at the senior Ukrainian championships in Kharkiv, I took fourth place. To become fourth at 16 year old, in Ukraine, the republic that was leading the Soviet gymnastics at the time — the success that didn’t mean as much to me back then as to the specialists. At least, in Kharkiv, for the first time, I heard all sorts of enticing offers: to stay there, to move to another city etc. I didn’t even give any thought to these offers: I never thought of leaving Kherson. Only later I learned that people called my mom, talked to Mikhail Afanasyevich. But their answers were unanimous and categorical: let the girl finish high school. The old rule —“Study no worse than the others” — continued to be in place, no matter how much time I spent on practices, trips to competitions and to training camps. The 9th and the 10th grades were ahead of me.
Latynina didn’t just want to look effortless; she wanted her routines to look like they hadn’t been memorized/overly rehearsed.
To find my own style, to find myself in gymnastics – that was what I wanted the most during that year that separated us from Melbourne. Yes, I didn’t have to consider any of this seriously before: I had to master the necessary inventory of movements, to learn a lot of elements. And then… “Play in a way that I won’t see that you memorized it”. I really wanted to achieve this: the lightness, gracefulness, ease are for the spectator and all the hard stuff, all the rough work, sweat, tears and callused palms can stay in the training gym. Strength, dexterity, courage — there is no artistic gymnastics without them, but all of it has to be in one natural blend and not catch your eye, not stun you.
Latynina on the emotion of floor exercise.
I needed music like I needed air. For what? Back then I wouldn’t be able to answer this question properly. Now I understand: I needed it not just to achieve refined movements, I needed it to put the feelings into the movements, to achieve poetry in gymnastics. Was it hyperbolic, utopian? No, I’m still sure that the true success in gymnastics will be the performance of an athlete who will feel, will live through each of her movements and won’t just repeat them mechanically. Artistry and lyricism in this sport have now obtained all the citizenship rights both in theory and in practice. And even if this style sometimes retreats from the onslaught of trickery and high difficulty, it’s a hurtful but only temporary departure. Back then artistry was only a search, since even the floor exercise wasn’t accompanied by music. Of course I wasn’t the only one searching. But how much scolding I heard because of it!
“You’re dragging ballet to gymnastics, there’s no need to show your feelings here!”, “You want to be loved by the spectators!” — these weren’t even the worst ones. “You need to do everything cleanly and technically — that’s our style” – they were persuading me with seriousness — “Emotions can have place before or after the routine, but during the competition your emotions lead to breakdowns!”
Reminder: Women’s individual floor didn’t use music until 1958.
You can read a translation of the book in its entirety here.