At the inaugural Moscow News competition in 1974, Yelena Abramova became the first woman to do a double back at a large international competition. (You can see a video here.) But she was not the first gymnast to perform the skill.
In 1973, Renata Stodůlková made headlines when she performed the skill at Czechoslovakia’s trials for the European Championships, and though Stodůlková did not compete at the 1973 European Championships, her double back on floor was a big topic of conversation in London that year.
What follows is a translation of the newspaper article about Stodůlková’s double back.
Note: If you’re a long-time gymnastics fan, you may have heard of Stodůlková’s double back, but the details have largely been forgotten over the years.
It’s important to recognize moments like this in gymnastics history because progress in women’s artistic gymnastics is often seen through a Soviet lens. The contributions of gymnasts from other countries are often overlooked, and, as I mentioned above, Stodůlková’s double back did capture the attention of the European gymnastics community in 1973 — even if she performed the skill only domestically.
In 1973, the IOC Programming Commission and the FIG engaged in a delicate dance in which the IOC presented a list of concerns and the FIG had to come up with solutions that appeased the IOC. (This wasn’t new. For example, in 1957, this dance led to the elimination of group rhythmic exercises in women’s gymnastics and the creation of event finals.)
In 1973, one of the IOC’s concerns was the number of gymnasts per country in the all-around and event finals. The FIG’s solution allowed only three gymnasts per country into the all-around finals and two gymnasts per country into the apparatus finals.
Keep in mind that the apparatus finals, in particular, were heavily dominated by the top teams. For example, at the 1972 Olympics, there were four Soviet gymnasts in the women’s vault finals, four Japanese gymnasts in the men’s floor finals, and five Japanese gymnasts in the men’s high bar finals. (There were only six gymnasts per final.)
Another interesting tidbit: The IOC was already pushing to reduce team sizes to five members in 1973.
Below, you will find the letter that the FIG published in its Bulletin of Information in December 1973 (issue no. 4).
Only four gymnasts have swept the medals at the European Championships: Latynina in 1957, Čáslavská in 1965 and 1967, Tourischeva in 1973, and Boginskaya in 1990. All legends in their own right. And, as we’ll see below, Tourischeva won the floor title even with a fall during finals.
Looking back on this competition, vault was one of the more interesting events because much innovation was happening. Korbut introduced a full twist onto the horse. (Unfortunately, she was too injured to compete in finals and scratched after trying to sprint down the runway.)
Additionally, Tsukaharas, the vault that Tsukahara Mitsuo popularized in 1970, were becoming popular in women’s gymnastics. While others had competed the skill previously, Tourischeva, the reigning World and Olympic all-around champion, was now doing it, helping the vault seem less “masculine,” as one newspaper described it during the 1973 University Games.
Fun Trivia Fact: While the media coverage focused on Tourischeva and Korbut, neither gymnast received the highest score during the competition. Angelika Hellmann of East Germany did — with a 9.7 during the uneven bars finals.
So, with no further ado, here’s what happened at the 1973 European Championships in London.
In 1972, Zdena Dorňáková won the all-around at the Czechoslovak National Championships when she was only 14. She finished 27th in the all-around at the Munich Olympics, suffered an injury right before the 1973 European Championships, and finished 19th in the all-around at the 1974 World Championships in Varna.
Because she won the national title at such a young age, she was a source of fascination in the Czechoslovak media in the early 1970s, and she was portrayed as the gymnast who might rehabilitate Czechoslovak gymnastics. Below, you’ll find a 1973 profile of her, as well as a 1974 interview.
A topic of interest: The tension between the capital and the peripheral gyms. This was not a uniquely Czechoslovak problem. For instance, it was a challenge for Swiss gymnasts, as well.
The Soviet Union, like the rest of the world, wasn’t immune to Korbut mania. She appeared in numerous newspaper articles and photographs. The country’s media followed along as the Women’s Technical Committee considered banning Korbut’s famous skills, and the newspaper Izvestiiaportrayed Korbut as the star of the Soviet gymnasts’ British tour. There even was a short film about Korbut in 1973. It was titled The Joys, the Sorrows, and the Dreams of Olga Korbut (Радости, огорчения, мечты Ольги Корбут).
Below, you’ll find a small collection of Soviet media about Korbut, including the aforementioned film and an article from Soviet Woman, a bimonthly illustrated magazine out of Moscow.
Note #1: There will be references to Knysh below. It should also be mentioned that Korbut has alleged that Knysh sexually assaulted her. Knysh denied the allegations. He died in 2019.
Note #2: There will be references to weight and weight-shaming in this article.
It’s an understatement to say that the world couldn’t get enough of Korbut after the 1972 Olympics.
In fact, after the Munich Olympics, the Soviet team didn’t go home. They left immediately for a tour of West Germany, which upset Korbut. As she recalls her autobiography, My Story, she just wanted to go home:
So, after we had already done our best at the Olympics, expending our entire physical and emotional strength, we had to travel from one city to another for the next two weeks, sometimes performing as often as twice a day. We would have to use non-standard small apparatuses in small school gymnasiums, but that was the least of our problems. It was as though someone had gone up to Bob Beamon, the Olympic long-jump champion at Mexico City in 1968, right after he had jumped an incredible 29 ft 2½ in, and said, “Good job, Bob, you’ve done well. Now you have to jump again, for at least thirty feet this time.
The Sports Committee’s only interest was making more money, even if it was at the expense of our health and emotional well-being. We were like slave labor to them.
The touring didn’t stop there, and because Korbut was the biggest star on the team, the contracts reportedly demanded that Korbut participate in the tours — even when she didn’t want to. As Korbut tells it, she didn’t want to come to the United States, and Larisa Latynina, the head coach at the time, had to fetch her.
Once Korbut and the rest of the Soviet team made it to the United States, they performed around the country and made a trip to the White House to meet with President Nixon. Members of an unofficial Olga Korbut fan club greeted them everywhere, and Korbut appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
If that weren’t tiring enough, a few months later, the Soviet team headed to Great Britain, where Korbut was the star, appearing on British billboards and headlining exhibitions.
Of course, there were detractors — those who didn’t think Korbut’s gymnastics was all it was cracked up to be. But their voices were largely outnumbered by far more enthusiastic ones.
In the following post, we’ll look at a small fraction of the Olga mania that swept the globe in 1973.
At the 1973 University Games, the Soviet women were able to repeat their 1970 success, winning team gold and sweeping the all-around podium. They also won gold on every individual apparatus — with Olga Korbut winning three of the four event finals. (The Moscow University Games held an all-around final and apparatus finals for the first time.)
The increasing level of difficulty was evident at the 1973 Universiade. Even though the Women’s Technical Committee was debating whether to ban a standing back tuck on beam, more and more gymnasts were attempting the skill after Korbut and Thies did the skill in Munich. At least three gymnasts performed the skill at the 1972 Soviet National Youth Championships, as did Joan Moore at the 1972 Chunichi Cup. And at the 1973 University Games, Hayashida also attempted a standing back tuck.
Women’s vault was also changing. Gehrke had done a Tsukahara at the 1972 Riga International, and one year later, the vault was becoming more commonplace with Bogdanova winning the vault title in Moscow with her “masculine Tsukahara,” as Sovetsky Sport called it.
Here’s what happened at the 1973 University Games…
Japan’s winning streak at the University Games ended in 1973. From 1961 until 1970, they won every all-around title in men’s gymnastics, and when team awards were added to the gymnastics competition in 1963, they won four consecutive Universiade team titles.
But in Moscow in 1973, the Soviet Union won the Universiade team title and swept the all-around podium. In fact, Japan went home without a single gold medal — not even in the event finals. (Event finals and the all-around final were new to the Universiade in 1973.) As you’ll see below, the Japanese delegation thought that there was some suspicious judging at play.
Setting aside the question of judging for a moment, there was a lot of exciting gymnastics in 1973.
In 1973, newspapers around the globe printed some version of this headline: “Olga ‘May Say Goodbye Forever.’”
The articles typically went on to explain that Olga Korbut, the fan favorite of the Munich Games, might end her gymnastics career because the FIG had decided that her skills were too dangerous.
Not surprisingly, the newspapers got some of the details wrong. One Japanese newspaper wrote, “The 89-pound Olympic gold medalist has been banned from performing a breathtaking double backward somersault on the balance beam” (The Daily Yomiuri, July 18, 1973).
To be clear, the FIG did not ban a double back on the beam, nor did Korbut perform a double back on the beam. But in early 1973, the Women’s Technical Committee (WTC) was set to ban two skills that Korbut popularized: the standing back tuck on beam, as well as dismounting the bars by pushing off with one’s feet.
Then, over the course of the year, the members of the WTC slowly walked back their decision.
So, here’s a brief history of the Women’s Technical Committee’s decisions in 1973, as well as a translation of Korbut’s interview that sent shockwaves around the globe.
Reminder: Korbut was not the only gymnast to do a standing back tuck on beam at the 1972 Olympics. Nancy Thies (USA) also did one in Munich. Nor was she the only gymnast to dismount the uneven bars using her feet. Her teammate Bogdanova was doing a double-twisting version of Korbut’s dismount. Korbut was the most famous gymnast to perform those skills and thus became a lightning rod for the issue.
Note: The articles below will mention Korbut’s coach. Korbut has alleged that Knysh sexually assaulted her. Knysh has denied the allegations.
In July of 1973, after Viktor Klimenko won his second European all-around title, Stadión, a weekly Czechoslovak sports magazine, published a profile on him. It offers details about his early years in the sport, his rivalries within the Soviet team, his coaching changes, his recovery from an Achilles tear that occurred during the 1971 European Championships, and more.
Note: You can read a much shorter profile of the Klimenko brothers from 1972 here.