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History is a matter of perspective, and, by extension, so are gymnastics results. As we’ll see, the women’s event finals were highly contested at the 1968 Olympic Games.
Let’s take a look at what happened…
On Wednesday, October 23, 1968, the women competed in the optionals portion of the competition. As far as gold medals were concerned, there weren’t any surprises. The Soviet team was leading after the compulsories, and they ended up with gold. Čáslavská was leading the all-around after compulsories, and she won gold.
But the competition had its fair share of drama, especially on the podium. Let’s take a look at what happened.
Čáslavská’s beam routine during the optionals portion of the (1B) competition caused quite the stir.
Here are the basics:
- Čáslavská received a 9.65 for her beam routine.
- The crowd protested for over 10 minutes.
- Her beam score was raised to a 9.80 after Berthe Villancher, the president of the Women’s Technical Committee, interceded.
There was a lot on the line. These scores counted towards:
- The team standings
- The all-around standings, which was the sum of a gymnast’s compulsory and optionals scores
- Qualifying for event finals
- A gymnast’s event finals score, which was the average of her compulsory and optionals scores + her event finals score
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty and discuss how this one routine illustrated so much of the judging dysfunction that existed in the 1960s.
On Monday, October 21, 1968, the women’s compulsories opened the gymnastics competition at the Olympics in Mexico City.
And, as we’ll see, the crowd was very invested in the competition.
In 1968, the men’s event finals took place on Saturday, October 26, the very last day of competition at the Olympic Games.
Let’s take a look at what happened…
The Swiss newspaper L’Express summarized it best:
Until the last moment, it was impossible to predict who would win the individual all-around victory. However, since the start of the evening, it was certain that the Japanese would win the team competition.
Jusqu’au dernier moment, il était impossible de prédire à qui irait la victoire individuelle. Par contre, depuis le début de la soirée, il était certain que les Japonais l’emporteraient par équipes.
L’Express, Saturday, October 26, 1968
Let’s take a look at what happened.
When we think of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, we think of the questionable judging in women’s gymnastics and the political protest of Věra Čáslavská on the podium after the floor finals.
Over the years, a piece of FIG gossip has been forgotten. It happened after the men’s compulsories. Arthur Gander, the FIG president, threatened to ban a coach from competition.
So, let’s dive into the men’s compulsories, eh?
In Věra ‘68, Čáslavská returned to the National Auditorium in Mexico City, the place where she won four gold medals. While there, the tour guide said:
[Čáslavská] was an icon for us. We felt she was one of us, because at that time, in both our countries, there were student uprisings. That is why she was so dear to us. The fact that she won — it strengthened the bond between all the oppressed people. You will always be in our hearts.
During the 1968 Olympic Games, the Czechoslovak athletes meant a lot to a large portion of the Mexican audience. To understand why, you have to understand what happened in Mexico City ten days before the Olympics commenced.
Why is our national team suddenly so young? It seems to be a recurring question in the Soviet press in the late 1960s, and there were several explanations.
In an article from 1967, one writer suggested that it’s because the Soviet Union was trying to keep pace with the likes of Věra Čáslavská, who made her international debut at the age of 16 at the 1958 World Championships in Moscow.
The articles from 1968 told a different story.
In the first article below, the explanation will sound more familiar to today’s gym nerds. It has to do with the presumed innocence and naïveté of female gymnasts before they reach adulthood.
In the second article, Larisa Latynina offers a slightly different rendition of the rise of the teenage gymnast.
And finally, we’ll take a look at an Estonian article about Larisa Petrik and what she reportedly did with her pigtails.