In 1973, Boris Shakhlin published his autobiography titled My Gymnastics. It is a blend of genres: simultaneously an autobiography, an advice column, and a history of Soviet men’s gymnastics.
In the first two chapters of his book, he recalls his start in gymnastics, being orphaned after the death of his parents, his tiny gym with a ceiling so low that they had to bend their knees to do giants, his journey to becoming a Master of Sport, and, of course, sneaking into the gym to train vault without his coaches. (Čáslavská snuck into her gym, too!)
What follows is a translation of the first two chapters of his book…
CHAPTER 1: SPORTS PATHS
I often receive letters from young sportsmen. There are many letters, and I simply do not have enough time to answer each of them in detail. So, when I was offered to write a book for boys and girls who want to become gymnasts and have just started training or received the first junior sports category in their life, I thought: this will be my answer to those who have written and those who are planning to write to me.
Predominantly, there is one question young sportsmen are most interested in: how did I come into gymnastics – was it by chance, or did I have talent particularly for gymnastics even before I started training?
Boys and girls have probably heard or read that these days only gifted sportsmen achieve outstanding success. This is right, of course. We live at a time of exceptionally high achievements in sports; therefore, the role of aptitude and talent is far from insignificant. At the same time, one should not forget the most important thing: talent is only unleashed in those who do something, which in our case is some kind of sport. To support my idea, I would like to tell about four quite interesting cases.
Galya Prozumenshchikova could not learn to swim on her own. She was brought to a swimming pool by her father: he, an old and experienced seaman, knew well how important the ability to stay in the water for a long time is for survival. Viktor Tsybulenko was advised to do sports by his doctor: first of all, he had to get rid of his physical weakness and illnesses and strengthen his health reliably. Valeriy Borzov was passing the pioneer tetrathlon standards; he ran 60 meters and did the long jump best of all, and the physical education instructor of the pioneer camp literally ordered that Valeriy join a sports section and start training. Valeriy Brumel came to a stadium by himself: he had seen in a newsreel how high and beautifully people could fly over the bar and wanted to learn to jump as skillfully.
[Note: The pioneer movement was an organization for children operated by the communist party. It’s somewhat akin to the scout movement.]
As you can see, all four started doing sports in different ways and sort of by chance; none of them presumed that they had a talent for “their” kind of sport. That is why all four of them ended up in a similar way: after years of hard training, they all became Olympic champions. Galya Prozumenshchikova — in the 200-meter breaststroke, Viktor Tsybulenko — in the javelin throwing, Valeriy Borzov — in the 100 and 200-meter races, and Valeriy Brumel — in the high jump.
If you ever have to talk to these or our other renowned champions and record breakers, you will see that there is something unique and original in the sports biography of each of them. None of the outstanding sportsmen train according to a “standard.”
There were quite a few peculiar things along my sports path. Of course, my three coaches, who consistently led me to great successes and to the heights of sportsmanship, contributed a lot to my progress. Yet, there were useful discoveries of my own, however small they may have been.
It is only natural that, back in those days, as a child and a young man, I didn’t even understand that I was doing something really important for all of my subsequent development in sports. However, when I sat down to write these lines intended for young gymnasts, I carefully recalled and analyzes my first steps in sports. The easiest thing was to tell about my path in a simple way: at twelve I started training, at thirteen I took part in competitions, and at fourteen I became a champion in my town for the first time. Everything is clear: I trained regularly, I tried very hard, and that’s why I started to make progress.
I would like to tell about my path in a bit of a different way: to primarily show and highlight the things that were not quite usual and that ultimately helped me become a good gymnast.
I am going to tell not only about my first steps but also about the whole path, about the most important competitions, though by far not all of them, about my preparation for them, about some interesting techniques of sports contests. I do hope that there are those among you, young readers, who will be able to become good sportsmen and sportswomen, join the team of your sports association, the Republic, and the State. I will be very happy if examples from my performances and from those of my peers will also help you in the years of your sporting maturity.
And another, very important thing.
I am going to tell you how I personally moved to the pinnacles of gymnastic skill. The paths made by other gymnasts were completely different. So don’t try to do everything the way Shakhlin or someone else did. Select for yourself only the best of what I’m going to tell you, things that will help you and that could be repeated during your training sessions.
And now let me answer the question that I am most often asked in the letters — how did I come into artistic gymnastics?
I came into sports in the most ordinary way. Yet, I came into it naturally, so to speak. Today, it seems to me that if I were to be born again, I would become a gymnast all the same. However, there is one mandatory condition: my childhood must be spent in the same place and in the same environment.
CHAPTER 2: START
Everything begins with childhood
I spent my childhood in the small Siberian town of Ishim in Tyumen region. Such small towns always have enough space for children’s outdoor games that are quite simple. These games very often sort of gradually prepare teenagers for doing sports. Once we left the yard, we had plenty of space to skylark, play Cossacks and Robbers, lapta (a bat and ball game), soccer, compete for distance and accuracy throwing pebbles, just run about, or play tag.
In the summer, we spent lots of time in the woods, where we climbed almost all the trees; we swam a lot, rowed in boats on the river, and went fishing. In the winter, like all Siberian boys, we certainly went skiing, skating — we used sticks to poke everything that even remotely resembled a hockey puck (in those days, we did not play hockey with a puck yet).
Those were just games, child’s play. However, it is such games that give teenagers their first urge to become a sportsman — to match forces with their peers. The urge to compete that we, boys from Ishim, had, stemmed from one more important circumstance, which probably played a decisive role in my entry into sports.
Our Ishim consisted of two parts — the town itself and a large settlement near a big railway station. And we had two sports schools — one located in town and our school, which was near the train station. They brought together many boys and girls, and there was hardly a Sunday without a competition in various sports between the school teams.
There is no need to say that we, teenagers, were among the first spectators at all of the competitions. The reason was that either our neighbors or our older schoolmates took part in them. We knew all the strongest sportsmen, discussed their successes and failures for a long time, and envied them. Not all but very many of us waited for the day and time when we grew up and started to attend one of the sports schools. That’s why I believe that I came into sports in a typical and natural way — it was hard not to be involved in sports in a town like our Ishim.
I was especially lucky though.
I don’t know when, probably before I was born, someone put up a high bar in our yard: it was a pipe on two posts; next to it they also hung a trapeze on two tall posts. There was no fine evening without boys gathering near them and organizing some sort of competition. Many of them performed quite complicated elements, even the famous “sun” — giant swings on a horizontal bar.
Not only did we, boys, watch our older friends but we also tried to imitate them. Of course, we did not try to spin the “sun” or even perform the “sklopka,” that’s what we called a kip. Today, I cannot even recall when I first hung on a high bar, did the first swings on it, and that “scary fall,” which almost all boys necessarily do: they hang on the bends of the hamstrings upside down, swing a bit, straighten their legs and, turning over, land to the ground on their feet [i.e. a penny drop]. Certainly, the “fall” has nothing to do with gymnastics, but we thought of it as some kind of standard of courage.
By the age of twelve, I had already learned to do some tricks on high bar, at any rate, the simplest elements because I had done exercises almost every day — to do that, I only had to leave my apartment. So, in the autumn of 1944, together with my peers, I joined a group of beginners at the railway station children’s sports school to start training regularly and try my hand at sports.
The railway station children’s sports school (CSS) was headed by a man of remarkable destiny — Vasiliy Alekseevich Porfiryev. Slender and fit, he was for us an example of persistence, the ability to withstand fate, and overcome all adversities in life.
In his youth, Porfiryev had a serious illness and, as a result, his back stopped bending. He could not perform or show us even the simplest exercises on any apparatus. Despite that, Vasiliy Alekseevich remained a coach and became an experienced sports instructor. Porfiryev was not only in charge of our school. He conducted practical classes in several kinds of sport, fostered young sportsmen who then received a sports category or became masters of sports, for which he was awarded the most honorable sport title in our country — Honored Master of Sport of the USSR.
Vasiliy Alekseevich told us that during his medical treatment he was in the same ward with our wonderful writer Nikolay Ostrovskiy, who wrote books called How Steel Was Tempered and Born of a Storm. The example of a Civil War hero, a communist of unbreakable will who, blind and paralyzed, created for the youth an amazing character — Pavka Korchagin, supported our coach in hard times. Vasiliy Alekseevich came to the following conclusion: whatever physical misfortune you may encounter — first of all, under any circumstances you should not give in but fight for a place in life where you will be as helpful to people as possible. Then you will find your life exciting, too!
So, I was to start my sports path with such a man. He was very demanding. If Porfiryev saw that someone came to a training session just for the fun of it, he offered a simple choice: either you exercise properly or make way for someone else, who will be more disciplined and result-oriented during a training. He would mercilessly expel from school those who were negligent.
At that time, I wanted to become a gymnast most of all. Was I to become one? No one, even Vasiliy Alekseevich, could answer this question at first. Our school was not “narrowly specialized,” so to speak; all beginners started their sports path in a similar way, no matter what kind of sport they liked.
Yet, artistic gymnastics was a priority during a training session — we got acquainted with various elements and simple exercises, as it should be with beginners. It has long been established that artistic gymnastics contributes to making teenagers stronger and defter. However, for overall physical development, we also did other kinds of sports a lot. In the summer, it was track and field and sports games, and in the winter — skating, skiing, and ball hockey. And that was a must in the first two years. Over that time, Vasiliy Alekseevich and other coaches had a chance to get to know each of us well and to almost unmistakably determine who could make the most progress and in what kind of sport.
Nevertheless, the conditions for doing artistic gymnastics, in particular, were far from perfect at that time (now the railway station CSS has a good gym). To some extent, our gym was satisfactory for the gymnasts in terms of its length and width, but it was low. Rings could not be installed there as high as was necessary according to the standards; when doing a handstand on parallel bars, tall boys touched the ceiling with their feet, and when performing giant swings on a high bar, we had to bend our legs at the knee.
Yet, as spring came, it became warm, and we moved to areas with good conditions. Next to the school, a good gymnastics ground was equipped out in the open. The rings were at the right height there, and you could perform all elements on the high bar — do the “sun” as much as you wanted and according to all the rules, without bending your legs.
At that sports ground, we practiced until the beginning of the summer holidays and then went to the pioneer camp. It was sports-oriented and offered good conditions for doing many sports, including gymnastics. Here I would like to focus on one circumstance that helped me at the very start of my career.
It is no secret that many young gymnasts, and probably you as well, significantly reduce the volume of special training in the summer or stop practicing altogether. Suppose you go to a pioneer camp or to see your relatives where there are no conditions for practicing on all forms of apparatus; all you can do is perform floor exercise and do acrobatics. As a result, the training covering the entire gymnastics program is suspended for several months. In our CSS, it was the other way round: it was in the summer that we got an opportunity to practice more and in better conditions than in the winter.
In the pioneer camp, we not only did gymnastics. We used all the benefits of the sporting summer to the fullest — we ran a lot, swam, rowed in boats, prepared for, and passed the BGTO (Be Ready for Labor and Defense) standards. We very often played all kinds of sports games and, of course, soccer most of all. For example, the boys called me Dynamo Borka. In those days, our most popular soccer teams were the capital city clubs such as Dynamo and Spartak. And although we had never seen them in our Ishim, it was clear from my nickname which team I supported.
[Note: First introduced between 1931 and 1934, the Be Ready for Labor and Defense standards was a physical education program for members of the Soviet Union. It included a variety of activities like running, high jump, skiing, swimming, and more.]
That’s how my first two years of training passed. The coaches had gained a full understanding of each of us, and the group I started with began to split. Some of the guys switched to skating completely, others to skiing, and still others to track and field or different games.
I was unable to achieve at least average success in any of these sports, maybe because I was not tall and was not particularly strong and resilient.
However, I gained much from those two years of systematic general physical training. I became sturdier and more slender, which in combination with my dexterity and flexibility helped me to master gymnastic exercises rather successfully. When we had stopped being beginners and when each had made up his mind about his sports path, Vasiliy Alekseevich decided that I should continue with gymnastics. That’s what I wanted most.
Of course, by that time I had only made my first steps in artistic gymnastics because, like all my friends in the group, I had done many other sports. Anyway, I had taken part in competitions repeatedly and even fulfilled the norm of the junior category. Now I really was to master artistic gymnastics only.
Labor and Dream
You have probably read and heard more than once that only very hard work in training leads to great success in competitions. This is true: the more a sportsman works and hones his skills, the higher his skills will be and the more success he will achieve during a competition.
There is one more thing I would like to add to this, particularly for the youth: a big dream plays an equal role in leading you to greater success. If a sportsman does not dream of high achievements, if he doesn’t care what his result will be at a competition, he will exercise carelessly, without a twinkle and enthusiasm, so to speak. That’s why, if you dream of outstanding success in your childhood, it will help you a lot with the main thing — systematic, diligent, and goal-oriented training.
Much to my delight, there were several very young dreamers of the kind in our gymnastics group in Ishim, who really wanted to achieve outstanding success, particularly in gymnastics. I was friendly with Seryozha Tumanov, Borya Lonskikh, Vladik Karpovich, and Sasha Kolosov. Looking ahead, I would like to say that Sasha Kolosov also became a master of sport in gymnastics later on. We were just learning the basics of gymnastics but dreamed of the time when we would definitely become masters of sports, and compete not only for the team of our town or region but also for the national team of our country! We would not agree to anything less.
We dreamed and believed, were in love with gymnastics; we were almost obsessed with it. We tried not to miss the competitions of our older gymnasts, and we often came to their training sessions to see again and again the beautiful elements and complex combinations performed by them. And, of course, to dream that, after a while, we would learn to perform everything we could see then and something even more complicated! We tried to copy our older peers gradually.
When in the summer we got together in our yard, we would necessarily do exercises on the high bar and trapeze. We were happy in a boyish way to show people around us how strong and deft we already were! When we came to the school playground and there was no one there, we would necessarily have amateur training — this gave us pleasure. Even in the winter, we would often have training sessions of our own. Nobody made us exercise additionally, we were striving for it ourselves.
Vladik Karpovich’s father was the headmaster of our school, and it was a piece of cake for my friend to get the key to the gym at any time. When the gym was vacant, all five of us often did our exercises there. During those amateur training sessions, we tried to perform more complex elements, the kind of elements we had seen performed by older gymnasts. Of course, we carefully spotted each other so that no one got an injury or got hurt if he happened to fall off while performing a complicated element.
The regular practices in the group of Vasiliy Alekseevich and our amateur training sessions helped me, by the age of 15 and after three years of perfection, to become a recognized gymnast in our school. Not only did I master the junior category and the third adult category programs. I managed to successfully participate in several town competitions, and I was able to enter the all-Union sports arena.
[In the Soviet Union, there were several levels in sport — from highest to lowest: Honored Master of Sport of the USSR, Master of Sport of the USSR, International Class, Master of Sport of the USSR, Candidate for Master of Sport of the USSR, First-Class Sportsman, Second-Class Sportsman, Third-Class Sportsman, First-Class Junior Sportsman, Second-Class Junior Sportsman, and Third-Class Junior Sportsman.]
I have already said that our CSS was supported by the railway station. There are quite a few such schools and in those years, the Ministry of Railways of the USSR regularly held all-Union Spartakiads among the young sportsmen of schools sponsored by it. The best young sportsmen were on the team made up of students who went to the schools sponsored by the Ministry of Railways and took part in all-Union competitions of school students. It was in those competitions that I succeeded for the first time. Just don’t get the wrong idea that it all came easily to me and that I moved from one sports category to another without any obstacles.
As it happens with young gymnasts, I was performing in the third category but working on the second adult category program already. Of course, there were many difficulties. Things were not so good with rings, which, as you know, we mainly thought of as a “summer” apparatus. However, due to my short stature and insufficient jumping ability, I was not particularly good at doing vault. I can remember that once Vasiliy Alekseevich, hugging me by the shoulders, said regretfully:
— Borya, if only you could do the vault better — I would put you up for the nearest competition in the second category without thinking twice. As for the rest, you are quite ready. But the vault… I am afraid you would score a zero for it; you would let yourself down and, even more so, you would let the team down…
[Spoiler: As we’ll see in the next chapter, rings would become Shakhlin’s weak even that needed extra attention.]
At that time, performance in the second category was my biggest dream — I wanted not just to perform, to test my abilities, but to fulfill the norm of a category that was new for me, and to take another step forward. That’s why the coach’s words touched my raw nerve. Even if I have to crash, I will master the vault for sure! Most importantly, you have to show the necessary persistence, and everything will be all right!
Persistence is the first and the best friend of every true sportsman; only persistence can help you out in a time of trouble. Look at my situation. To perform in the second category, I had to master the vault — nothing else could replace it. What helped me was that even back then, in my youth, I had no idea what it was like to give up, not to master any element or connection, even if they are very complicated.
So, on Sunday, when there was no one in the gym, Vladik Karpovich took the key from his father again. The boys were doing exercises on the other apparatuses, and I started to vault over the horse; I did it angrily, persistently, obstinately. I cannot say and I did not count how many failed vaults I did on that day. Then, all of a sudden, things started to work out — I vaulted once, then again, and again!
I immediately rushed over to Porfiryev’s place and right from the doorstep, without even saying hello, shouted:
— Vasiliy Alekseevich, let’s run to the gym!
— What’s happened? — the coach was scared. — Is the gym on fire?
— No, everything is fine. I have vaulted over the horse! Let’s go, I will show you, — I explained hastily. — I can do it so well now. You will see. Let’s run quickly!..
My face must have radiated such great and unfeigned joy that Vasiliy Alekseevich, despite it being a Sunday, with his household chores and concerns, went to the gym with me without arguing.
I bravely ran up and… of course, nothing worked out. Today, I understand perfectly well that I couldn’t have performed the vault at that time — I was too tired after the numerous attempts. I was simply too exhausted to repeat what I had done, maybe quite by accident, only a few minutes before. It was such a shame that tears came to my eyes! Vasiliy Alekseevich, however, just said warmly:
— Don’t cry, you are a real boy, Borya! You will certainly be able to vault.
The coach’s faith in my possible success and his support helped me this time as well. I finally mastered the unfortunate vault and fulfilled the norm of the second category. Soon after that, I said goodbye to Ishim, to Vasiliy Alekseevich, and to my friends — and went to Sverdlovsk to enter a physical education college. I decided to commit to sports for my entire life and become a teacher. I had to stand on my own two feet and find my place in life.
The thing is that I became a total orphan at the age of 12: first, my father died, and then my mother. Together with my brother Arkadiy, who was only two years older than me, we went to live with our grandmother; it was not easy for her to look after us. Arkadiy soon got a job as a worker and went to work in the North. I wanted to study, so I decided to finish college first. And then we’ll see — I may go to work and study part-time at a university.
The Most Valuable Certificate
My sports path is in the past now. The numerous cups, certificates, and medals remind me of it. It so happened that the number six prevails in my awards. I have six personal gold medals from the Olympic Games, World and European Championships, the same number of large gold medals as the All-Around National Champion. And many more awards from various competitions.
Sometimes people ask me: “Which of the sports awards is the dearest to you?” If this happens in my home, I always show one particular certificate. An ordinary certificate of merit from the first post-war years, which became badly faded over time. Yet, even if it fades completely and there is no trace of ink left on it, I will keep it safely anyway. That’s because I remember well what was written in it when it was handed over to me.
It said that this certificate of merit is awarded to coach Boris Anfiyanovich Shakhlin for his successful performance at the Sverdlovsk Championship of the technical school team of gymnasts trained by him. Boris Anfiyanovich Shakhlin was 17 years old at the time, he regularly attended classes as a second-year student at the Sverdlovsk College of Physical Education!
The Sverdlovsk College of Physical Education is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country. It trains teachers and coaches, and its graduates can be met in many cities. There were always many experienced instructors working in the college, who did not limit themselves to teaching. Some of them were coaches of the teams from the city of Sverdlovsk and the region, from the RSFSR (the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), as well as the skiing and skating national teams.
The Gymnastics Department, which I entered, had its old and glorious traditions, too. In those days, well-known sportsmen Nikolay Popov and Ivan Vostrikov were third-year students there. In 1954, Ivan Vostrikov and I debuted for the national team at the World Championship; muscular, strong, and slender, Vostrikov carried the Flag of our Motherland at the Championship Opening Parade. The Gymnastics Department was headed by Serafima Alekseevna Poroshina, an experienced teacher and master of sport, and master of sport Eduard Fyodorovich Rung was responsible for training men. He was to become my instructor.
Rung was younger than Porfiryev, he successfully performed on the stage, which was evidenced by his title of master of sport. It was interesting for me to compare his work with that of my first mentor. However, soon I realized that any comparison was out of the question. Porfiryev and Rung worked under very different conditions and had very different tasks.
All those who came to Porfiryev were absolute beginners, Vasiliy Alekseevich taught them the basics of gymnastics, as it were, starting with the simplest moves and elements. Rung did not have to deal with beginners. Every one of those entering the college had a gymnastics category, at least a junior category. That’s why Eduard Fyodofovich thoroughly examined the level of his new students during the first classes and then made plans for individual training so that the three years of study at the college would help each one to improve his or her skills as much as possible.
Besides, Eduard Fyodorovich not only trained but also taught us how to correctly build a lesson at a secondary school or in a group of a children’s and youth sports school in case some of us became physical education teachers and others became coaches. There is one thing I can say about myself: my studies at the college finally opened my eyes to the role of a teacher and coach, and I fell in love with this profession. That’s why after I had finished college I decided to also graduate from an institute to acquire in-depth knowledge and become a highly qualified teacher.
How did my purely sport-related affairs turn out?
From the very first day, I liked it at the college. Compared with our small and low gym in Ishim, the conditions for training were almost fabulous here. I knew that I would not touch the ceiling with my feet when doing a handstand on parallel bars; that I did not have to bend my legs when performing giant swings on high bar but, on the contrary, could point my toes as required from a gymnast; finally, I could practice on the rings all the year round; they were no longer a seasonal, “summer” apparatus, like they were back in Ishim. That’s why, over the three years of my study at the college, I managed to take a great leap — from the second category program to the masters of sport program. Yet, there was an element of luck in it, even though it was absolutely unusual.
When Eduard Fyodorovich examined my level of skills and asked questions about my previous lessons, he suggested that I start mastering the first category program right away. At the competitions, I still competed for the college team in the second category; I even became a champion of Sverdlovsk soon. At the training sessions conducted by Eduard Fyodorovich, I learned the first category program to meet his requirements during my study at the college.
My amateur lessons did not stop either. Many of our students did not live in the dormitory but hired private apartments, with three to four people in an apartment. I also lived in an apartment with two other boys. There was a high bar in our yard, which had been made from a pipe by our predecessors, who were also gymnastics students. During our morning exercises in the warm weather we not only did pull-ups on it but also performed some rather complicated elements — the bar was reliable. For example, almost every day of my life started and ended with gymnastics. The reason was this.
When I was entering college, I was receiving a pension for my parents, but as I became a second-year student, the pension payments stopped, and I had only my scholarship left. Obviously, it was far from enough to live on, and there was no one to support me financially. It was then that I was offered to work as an assistant coach at the Sverdlovsk college, where I was to train young sportsmen.
At first, my work seemed even a bit scary to me. I had just turned sixteen, and my trainees at the college were at least as old as me, and those in the final years were even older than I was. Before my first training session, I had only one thought: how am I going to give them various instructions and will they obey? Yet, I was already a town champion, and the guys treated me with respect (he is a champion, after all!). Soon we made friends, the preparation for the competitions was going well, the team took a prize-winning place, and I was awarded my most precious certificate for that.
In those days, still at a young age and not much of an expert gymnast in terms of training experience, I could not clearly explain how to do this or that element, a connection, and a routine. I lacked in-depth knowledge as well as teaching experience to do that, which I was just mastering at college. However, I could demonstrate everything my trainees were learning to do. So, I preferred to show everything as I performed it; occasionally, I did it several times throughout a training session and on various apparatus.
So, as a result, my training load was much higher than that of many of my friends. On some days, it looked like I trained twice. In the middle of the day, I attended the training sessions at the college conducted by Eduard Fyodorovich, and in the evening I myself conducted practices at the technical school, showing several times all kinds of elements and connections, and sometimes routines. Moreover, I tried to show it all to the boys, as we say, “cleanly,” at a high technical level; this also helped me very much to hone my skills, to try and focus mentally, and to concentrate for excellent performance. That’s what my peculiar “luck” (which I mentioned above) was about.
Looking ahead, I want to say that this is the way the gymnasts of the Soviet Union national team started to train from 1960 on. Due to the circumstances and against my will, I, a 16-year-old youngster, was way ahead of my time. This definitely had a positive impact on my whole future life in gymnastics…
Back then, I really wanted to become a master of sport for sure. I competed in the first category program not only at Sverdlovsk and regional championships but also at championships of our students’ sports society called “Burevestnik.” I saw many well-known masters of our gymnastics there. I was most impressed by Viktor Chukarin, who in 1949 won the title of all-around champion of the USSR for the first time. I very much wanted to become as good a master — focused, cool, confident, and perfect in every movement on every apparatus.
It is hard to express how happy I was when, after the holidays, before the lessons began in the final year, Eduard Fyodorovich Rung suggested that I train under the master of sport program. Meaning that in most of the competitions I would have to compete for the college team in the first category, as before. However, at the training sessions, I started to work on the masters program. Before I finished college, I even competed at the Sverdlovsk championship in this program. I was not awarded this high title at the time.
That did not upset me much, though. I understood pretty well that my optional program was still quite far from the necessary high requirements: it still had few complex elements and connections, and it still needed to be worked on a lot. However, the most important thing was accomplished: I had started working on the masters program, and it was my persistence and willingness to train that determined when I would finally master it.
Now, looking back on the past, I understand how great a role Eduard Fyodorovich Rung played in the development of my skills at that time. Back then, to successfully master the masters program, I still lacked strength and stamina, which was especially evident in the exercises performed on the rings. Unfortunately, I would have to repeat them again and again: what you could not master perfectly at the start of the path, in youth, you then have to refine throughout your sports life.
Primarily, Eduard Fyodorovich helped me a lot by preventing me from staying in the first category for long and timely suggested that I start working on the masters program. I was infinitely happy that, in one academic year, I was able to take the first step towards mastering this program and even perform it at competitions.
Before I finished college, I was faced with a problem — what should I do next: start working or enter an institute? I have already said that I really wanted to acquire more in-depth knowledge and become a true teacher. At that time, Eduard Fyodorovich literally dumbfounded me with an unexpected offer. Once, at the end of a training session, he said:
— Of course, it is sad to part with such a fine young man as you, Borya. I have a feeling that you could become a very good gymnast. Yet, there is nothing to be done, we will have to part. And here is my sincere advice to you: go to Kyiv and enter the Kyiv Institute of Physical Culture…
— Why Kyiv? — I wondered.
— You know that there are no physical culture institutes nearby, neither in the Urals nor in Siberia, which you come from. Kyiv is a wonderful city.
— But Kyiv is not the only place where there are physical culture institutes.
— You are right, Borya. Yet, Mishakov lives in Kyiv.
— Who is Mishakov?
— Aleksandr Semyonovich Mishakov is a good old friend of mine. And first of all, in my opinion, he is a very talented teacher and an expert coach, — said Eduard Fyodorovich. — I would really like you to have him as a coach. And, generally, there are many people in Kyiv to learn from. The country’s former overall champions Mikhail Dmitrievich Dmitriyev and Adzhat Muratovich Ibadulayev work and still participate in competitions there. Nina Bocharova, the all-around champion of the country lives there. To cut a long story short, you will join a very good and strong team. And the stronger your competitors are at every competition, even at a city championship, and the harder it is for you to beat them, the better for you. You will always be learning to win in a tough sporting struggle.
From this perspective, the offer made by Eduard Fyodorovich sounded very tempting. Every gymnast dreams of training with a talented teacher because you can only achieve the real peaks of athleticism in cooperation with an experienced coach. It is also useful to constantly be among strong sportsmen: a person who has just started to work on a complicated masters program can always learn from them. Each of the older and more experienced sportsmen will always help you with advice and tips; you can only dream of such a team. To put it in a nutshell, the arguments provided by Eduard Fyodorovich convinced me to go to the capital of Ukraine.
I packed up my basic belongings, warmly said goodbye to my mentor and friends, and went to Kyiv. I was not thinking how the unfamiliar city would meet me — student life is equally exciting everywhere. I was thinking of other things. Two coaches, Vasiliy Alekseevich Porfiryev and Eduard Fyodorovich Rung, had already done very much to make me love artistic gymnastics, achieve some success in it, and, moreover, want to become a teacher myself. Now I am going to entrust my destiny to the third mentor. I am doing that not by my own choice because I don’t even know him; I am doing it by the recommendation of Eduard Fyodorovich Rung, who does believe in the teaching skills of his friend and in my success under his care.
What kind of person is Aleksandr Semyonovich Mishakov, who so far is completely mysterious to me? He, just like Rung, is to guide me both in training and in studies as I improve my teaching skills, because he teaches at the Gymnastics Department of the Institute. What am I going to achieve under his guidance?
The answer lies in the next chapter…