1972 1973 Interviews & Profiles Romania WAG

1972/3: Early Interviews with Nadia Comăneci

Long before the 1976 Olympics, the Romanian press — in both Romanian and Hungarian — started to print interviews with and profiles of Nadia Comăneci. 

Below, you’ll find translations of a small collection of interviews and profiles from 1972 and 1973. Each one is interesting in its own right. For example, you can find an early comparison with Olga Korbut — something that would continue to crop up in the press for years after. In that same article, the author questions if too much was expected of the prodigy at too young of an age — an ongoing question in the sport of gymnastics. There’s even an article titled, “We should not expect everything only from Nadia Comăneci.”

All in all, the articles portray Comăneci as a wunderkind, whose skill is routinely described in supernatural, if not religious, terms, with the word “miracle” being routinely employed to describe her accomplishments.

Sportul, June 15, 1972

As you’ll see in the first profile printed about Comăneci, the Romanian press erased her first coach, Marcel Duncan, from Comăneci’s story right from the start.
1972 1973 MAG Romania USSR WAG

1972/3: Comăneci Wins the All-Around in Dual Meets with the USSR

In 1972 and 1973, the Romania juniors competed against the Soviet juniors in dual meets. In both years, Comăneci won the all-around.

In other words, long before the Montreal Olympics, the Soviets knew they would be up against stiff competition. In fact, Larisa Latynina, the head coach of the Soviet team, would refer to Comăneci as the “Romanian Korbut” after the 1973 Friendship Cup.

Here are the Romanian news reports on the dual meets. Plus, there’s an early profile of Comăneci included at the end.

Reminder: In 1972, the Soviet newspapers didn’t know how to spell Comăneci’s surname.

Sportul, April 22, 1973
1972 China MAG WAG

1972: Yang Mingming and Jiang Shaoyi Win Chinese Nationals

The 1972 Chinese Nationals were the first major domestic competition after the Cultural Revolution. Launched in 1966 by Mao Zedong, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution — in very broad terms — set out to preserve Chinese communism by purging remnants of capitalism.

From a sports perspective, the revolution majorly impacted China’s national and international involvement. For starters, most of the national teams were disbanded. Gymnastics was an exception:

Apart from table tennis, gymnastics, and athletics teams, most national teams were disbanded.

Fong and Zhouxiang, “Sport in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)”

What follows is a translation of an article about the national championships in 1972. Unfortunately, the scores were not listed, but we can see which gymnasts would form the core of Chinese gymnastics as they started to compete in more international competitions in the early 1970s.

Reminder: The Chinese gymnastics team traveled to Yugoslavia and Romania before it held its first official national championships in 1972. 

Among the juniors, you might notice a familiar name: Li Yuejiu, who tied for gold on floor exercise at the 1981 World Championships and who currently coaches in the United States.

Jiang Shaoyi, China
Jiang Shaoyi
1972 China MAG Romania WAG

1972: China Travels to Romania for a Dual Meet

In June of 1971, Nicolae Ceauşescu, the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, paid a visit to China and North Korea. 

One year later, Chinese gymnasts went to Romania for a competition.

Note: We’ll see a similar timeline between the U.S. and China with Nixon going to China in 1972 and Chinese gymnasts traveling to the United States in 1973.

While the Chinese men’s team defeated the Romanian team, the Chinese women were not as successful. After the competition, the teams held joint training sessions, during which the Chinese gymnasts learned the compulsory routines. Apparently, Cai Huanzong’s routines looked even better than the figures used to depict the compulsory routines.

Note: After Ceauşescu’s visit to China, he published the “July Theses,” which ended a period of ideological diversity and cultural liberalization in Romania. A list of banned books, for example, was reinstated. Academics debate the extent to which Chinese political thought influenced Ceauşescu.

Note #2: China withdrew from the FIG in 1964, so this meet was important because it showed that China was dipping its toes back into the waters of international competition after a long absence.

Source: Sportul, July 19, 1972

1972: Bichukina First, Kim Second at the Soviet National Youth Championships

Months after Olga Korbut captivated the world’s attention in Munich, there was a national youth championship in Zaporizhzhia, and a familiar name — Nellie Kim — took second behind Raisa Bichukina, a much less familiar name to today’s gymnastics fans. (Kim was leading after the preliminary competitions.)

The path from junior elite to senior elite is never easy. Of the top juniors in 1972, only Kim and Grozdova would make the 1976 Olympic team. On the men’s side, several of the top juniors in 1972 would go on to have successful senior careers, including Marchenko, Markelov, and Dityatin.

What fascinates me about this event is the coverage. It raises hard questions: Was the nation in too much of a hurry to have young gymnasts competing on a major stage? Are they forcing gymnasts to compete too much? At the same time, the articles marvel at the gymnasts’ talent. The next generation of women’s artistic gymnasts was performing the most difficult skills in the world, including the same vault that Nikolai Andrianov competed in Munich.

Datum: 25.07.1980 Copyright: imago/Sven Simon Nelli Kim (USSR)
1972 Chunichi Cup Japan MAG WAG

1972: Andrianov and Janz Win the Chunichi Cup

At the end of 1972, many of the stars of the Olympics headed to Japan for a series of competitions, including the Chunichi Cup. Not surprisingly, most of the competitors were not as sharp as they were in Munich. This was particularly true of the Soviet women who had to do a tour in West Germany right after the Olympics.

But the Chunichi Cup did give some gymnasts the opportunity to shine. For example, Nina Dronova, an alternate for the Soviet team and the Chunichi Cup champion in 1970 and 1971, took silver.

The competition also gave gymnasts the opportunity to try out new skills. U.S. gymnast Joan Moore added a back tuck to her beam routine, a skill that only Korbut and her teammate Nancy Thies competed at the Olympics.

Here’s a glimpse of what happened in Nagoya, Japan.

1972 Gym Nerd Trivia Olympics

1972: Gym Nerd Trivia about the Olympic Games

If you’re reading this site, you’re. a gym nerd at heart. Now, it’s time to see just how much of a gym nerd you are. Take the quiz below to find out.

1972 East Germany Olympics

1972: East Germany’s Takeaways from the Munich Olympics

After the Olympics, Deutsches Sportecho, the main sports newspaper of East Germany, published an article about the gymnastics competition. Its general conclusion: There were no surprises at the Olympics. Everything happened as expected. The socialist countries dominated the women’s competition while the Japanese team dominated the men’s competition.

The article did offer a small critique of the judging in the women’s competition:

Judges are only human, and they valued the grace of Olga Korbut or the suppleness of Ludmilla Tourischeva more highly than the pronounced athleticism of Karin Janz – with the same difficulty and the same precision.

What follows is a translation of the article.

Copyright: imago/Colorsport, Karin Janz, Vault
1972 Olympics Romania

1972: Romania’s Takeaways from the Olympics in Munich

Romania skipped the gymnastics competition at the 1968 Olympics in part because of its disappointing showing at the 1964 Olympics. Four years later, in 1972, the Romanian women finished sixth, just as they had at the 1964 Olympics. The Romanian men finished 7th — a major improvement over their 12th-place finish in Tokyo.

After the Olympic Games in Munich, the Romanian press tried to answer the questions:

  • What should we make of the gymnasts’ performance in 1972?
  • Could our gymnasts have been achieved?
  • What needs to be done going forward?

What follows is a translation of a column from Sportul, published in the September 29, 1972 edition of the newspaper. The article looks at everything from body weight to the lack of good apparatus in the country.

Elena Ceampelea on the balance beam, June 10, 1972, The Netherlands
1972 Japan Olympics

1972: Japan’s Reflections on the Munich Olympics

At the end of Japan’s Official Report on the 1972 Olympics, the authors included a section that looked toward the future. They pinpointed areas where the Japanese men’s team needed to improve to stay ahead of the Soviet team, and they were hopeful because Kaneko Akitomo was part of the Technical Committee. Previously, they had felt at a geographic and linguistic disadvantage presumably because Japan is outside of Europe and Japanese is not a primary language of the FIG.

As for the women, the authors believed that Japan needed to go back to the basics and start over again.

Kato Sawao, Rings, 1972 Olympics, Copyright: imago/Sven Simon