1963 MAG Universiade WAG

1963: The Men’s and Women’s Competitions at the University Games

The results of the gymnastics competition at the 1963 University Games in Porto Alegre, Brazil, were quite unexpected. 

At the 1962 World Championships, Yuri Titov and Larisa Latynina won the all-around titles. One year later, at the Universiade in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Titov finished off the podium, and the Japanese men swept the top three places in the all-around. On the women’s side, Latynina, who had won every World and Olympic all-around title since 1956, had to share first place with Hungary’s Katalin Makray. On top of that, Hungary beat the Soviet Union, which had won team gold at every World Championships or Olympic Games since 1952.

Granted, there were some fundamental differences between the University Games and other major competitions. No compulsory routines, for example. Only four gymnasts per team. No event finals. Nevertheless, the results were surprising.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to track down information about this competition. So, this post relies on the book Unversíade 1963: História e resultados dos Jogos Mundiais Universitários de Porto Alegre by Rodrigo Koch.

Photo: Katalin Makray, Népszava, Sept. 4, 1963
1963 Czechoslovakia MAG WAG

 1963: The Czechoslovak Championships

Here’s a brief article on the 1963 Czechoslovak Championships, which Šťastný and Čáslavská won. Čáslavská swept the event titles, as well.

1963 Czechoslovakia MAG

1963: Why was the Czechoslovak men’s program struggling?

The Czechoslovak men’s team used to be the strongest program in the world. The Czech Sokols won the team titles at the 1907, 1911, 1913, 1922, 1926, 1930, and 1938 World Championships. After World War II, Czechoslovakia’s highest finish at the World Championships was third (1958 and 1962).

So, what happened? Why was their program struggling? In 1963, Stadión ran an article that offered several theories on this topic. The main concern was a lack of depth.

This lack of depth was, in part, due to the amount of dedication that gymnastics takes. “Gymnastics needs all of one’s free time. And so the boys leave and are content to perform some kind of handstand or somersault in the swimming pool.”

Another reason was Czechoslovakia’s mandatory military service, which happened at an age when male gymnasts are just starting to gain the strength required for high-level gymnastics. One unit — Dukla in Prague — was good at developing gymnasts while those who go to other military units do not progress. As a result, many male gymnasts’ development fell by the wayside at the age of 19.

In addition to the question of depth, there was a lack of consistency in the training methodologies throughout the various regions. And generally speaking, there seemed to be misguided routine composition among the top Czechoslovak men.

1963 Czechoslovakia Japan

1963: Japan vs. Czechoslovakia

In 1963, Japanese gymnasts traveled to Czechoslovakia for a dual meet. Not surprisingly, the Soviets, specifically Yuri Titov, made a trip to Czechoslovakia to film the routines, and the East Germans were there with their notepads.

According to an article in the Czechoslovak sports magazine Stadión, the Japanese men’s artistic gymnasts were breaking new ground on rings and high bar, while the Czechoslovak women’s artistic gymnasts were showing original elements on beam and floor. (Though, the Japanese women’s artistic gymnasts were the queens of turns on beam.)

Here’s a short account of what happened.

Reminder: This was a competition between the top teams in the world. The Czechoslovak men’s team finished third at the 1962 World Championships while the Japanese men finished first. The Czechoslovak women’s team finished second in 1962 while the Japanese women finished third.

1963 Czechoslovakia Interviews & Profiles WAG

1963: A Profile of Vladimír Prorok, Čáslavská’s Coach

When Čáslavská won the vault title at the 1962 World Championships, Vladimír Prorok was her coach. He was the 1955 European Champion on floor exercise, and when he was coaching Čáslavská in the early 1960s, he was a relatively new but highly dedicated coach — one whom “foreign countries look up to with envy and speak of with the utmost respect.”

Note: Prorok also means “prophet” in Czech. Hence the prophecy references throughout this piece.

1963 Czechoslovakia Interviews & Profiles WAG

1963: A Profile of Luděk Martschini, Czechoslovak and Swiss Coach

Luděk Martschini was a coach in the small town of Litvínov, Czechoslovakia. One of his most notable gymnast was Jaroslava Sedláčková, who was part of the 1964 Czechoslovak team that won silver and the 1966 team that won gold. Martschini would go on to be the head coach of the Swiss women’s team during their Olympic debut in 1972.

A 1963 profile of Martschini portrayed him as a man who was devoted to his work (perhaps overly devoted?) and whose anger flared up when a gymnast did not do her homework. The denizens of the town were reluctant to embrace gymnastics, especially leotards, but once his gymnasts started winning, the town embraced gymnastics enthusiastically, and his group of trainees began to grow.

The profile touches upon well-worn topics in gymnastics coverage. For example, can a gymnast have all three — gymnastics training, a good education, and a boyfriend? “School, boyfriend, and sports are an unforgiving triangle. So far, gymnastics wins for everyone, even though school is of course a given.”

Coach of Gymnastics national team Ludek Martschini, 1971 (Photo by Blick Sport/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

1963: A Profile of Latynina: “Isn’t everything we do personal life?”

In 1963, the Estonian newspaper Spordileht (Sports Magazine) printed a profile of Larisa Latynina. It portrayed Latynina as a well-rounded, caring individual, who fulfilled her responsibilities not just to her sport but also to her daughter, her community, and her country.

When the article was published, Latynina was the reigning World and Olympic all-around champion. On top of her training, she stayed up late answering her fans’ letters (and writing to some coaches with unsolicited advice). Beyond that, she was a “people’s deputy,” an elected position responsible for expressing and defending the public’s interests. (The position still exists in modern-day Ukraine.)

In a way, the article presented a 1960s Soviet version of the “You can have it all” narrative.

Note: Latynina was not the reigning European all-around champion when this article was published. The Soviet Union and other socialist countries refused to attend the 1963 European Championships in France because the East German gymnasts did not receive entry visas.

Larisa Latynina, 1960, Rome Olympics