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1973 European Championships MAG

1973: Klimenko Wins the All-Around at the European Championships

At the 1971 European Championships, Viktor Klimenko won the all-around. Then, while warming up for the event finals on floor, he tore his Achilles tendon. He managed to recover in time to win gold on pommel horse, silver on vault, and a silver with the Soviet team in Munich. One year later, in 1973, Klimenko once again found himself on top of the all-around podium at the European Championships in Grenoble, France.

But it was his teammate Nikolai Andrianov who pushed the sport’s difficulty level forward by debuting new elements: a double pike on floor as well as a full-twisting double back off rings. (Reminder: Tsukahara had competed a full-twisting double back off high bar in 1972, and one year later, Andrianov was doing the same dismount off rings.)

Also of note: Bernd Effing performed an Arabian 1 ¾ on floor in Grenoble, helping to usher in decades of roll-out skills (and concussions). And Eberhard Gienger added his own spin to Tsukahara’s full-twisting double back off high bar by performing the twist on the first flip.

While the gymnastics was exciting at the men’s European Championships, the organization of the competition left much to be desired. For example, they played the wrong national anthem for Eberhard Gienger. It happened during a historic medal ceremony where Gienger from West Germany and Klaus Köste from East Germany stood side by side on the podium.

Here’s a bit more about the 1973 European Championships in Grenoble.

Eberhard Gienger (BR Deutschland) mit einem Skelett Eberhard Gienger BR Germany with a Skeleton

Note: I was looking for photos of the historic medal ceremony, but I couldn’t locate any. This is what I found instead.
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1973 MAG Riga International WAG

1973: Schegolkova and Andrianov Win the Riga International

The Riga International was one of the first major international competitions in 1973. Olympic gold medalists Nikolai Andrianov, Klaus Köste, and Elvira Saadi competed, but it wasn’t a well-attended event:

The attendance was very light for both men’s and women’s events with some increase during the finals.

Gymnast, June/July 1973

Riga was a place where gymnasts often debuted new skills. In 1972, Tsukahara did his full-twisting double back off high bar, and Gehrke became one of the first women to do a Tsukahara on vault. In 1973, Andrianov did one of the first double pikes on floor.

Historical context: At the 1962 World Championships, Hristov of Bulgaria attempted one of the first double backs at a major international competition. (He face-planted it.) Eleven years later, the world finally saw one of the first double pikes.

Source: Padomju Jaunatne, Nr. 70, April 10, 1973
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1973 Interviews & Profiles Romania WAG

1973: An Early Interview with Béla Károlyi

In 1973, one of the first profiles of the Károlyis was printed. It wasn’t published in the main sports newspaper in Romania, Sportul. Rather, it was published in A Hét, a Hungarian-language newspaper out of Bucharest. (Both Károlyis are ethnic Hungarians.)

The profile in A Hét calls the couple “heroes” and includes the basic contours of the Károlyis’ backstory, which differ from those found in a profile of Comăneci published weeks earlier in Sportul. In that profile, Károlyi suggests that he discovered Comăneci on a playground, a myth that has been repeated for decades. But here, in this Hungarian-language interview, the writer makes it clear that the Károlyis inherited already established groups of gymnasts when they moved to Oneşti. Though, Comăneci’s first coach, Marcel Duncan, is never mentioned by name.

The profile of Károlyi in A Hét was printed after Comăneci’s early success in 1973 — after she had won all the golds at the 1973 Romanian International as well as the all-around during a dual meet with the Soviets. And according to Károlyi, the best was yet to come. In fact, he insinuated that Comăneci might become the first woman to compete a triple twist. (Japan’s Kenmotsu had attempted the skill at the 1970 World Championships and 1972 Olympics.)

A short sidenote: In this article, we find out an interesting tidbit: One of Márta Károlyi’s names in Hungarian is reportedly Gyöngyi. (Erőss is her maiden name.) It was not uncommon for Hungarians to use different names in different contexts. For example, Valerie Nagy, a long-time member of the Women’s Technical Committee, was routinely referred to as Jenőné Nagy in the Hungarian press — a given name through marriage to her second husband, Jenő Nagy. However, in her gymnastics life, she routinely used the name Valerie Nagy. (Thanks to a kind reader for explaining this in the comments below.)

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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.
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1973 Friendship Cup MAG WAG

1973: Comăneci Wins the All-Around at the Friendship Cup

In 1973, at the Friendship Cup, Europe started to acknowledge Comăneci’s greatness. Larisa Latynina, the head coach of the Soviet team, called her the “Romanian Korbut,” and the East German newspaper asked, “Did Gera see the Olympic gymnastics champion of Montreal?”

At this competition, Comăneci competed a Tsukahara on vault, resulting in cheers from the crowd and a gold medal on the apparatus. It was not the first Tsukahara done by a woman on vault. (Beate Gehrke had competed one at the Riga International in 1972.) But it was still extremely rare. (Both Tourischeva and Grigoraş would perform a Tsukahara a few months later at the 1973 European Championships.)

What follows are East German and Romanian accounts of the competition.

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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
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1973 MAG Romanian International WAG

1973: Comăneci Wins Everything at the Romanian International

Over the years, many of the world’s top gymnasts competed at the Romanian International. Among them are Sofia Muratova, Eva Bosáková, Erika Zuchold (née Barth), Lyubov Burda, Kathy Johnson, Ecaterina Szabo, and Daniela Silivaș, to name a few.

When Comăneci won every gold medal at the competition in 1973, most countries had not sent their top gymnasts. However, Comăneci’s victories were important within Romania — partly because she was only 11 years old* and partly because she defeated Romania’s top senior gymnasts at the time (Ceampelea and Goreac).

*Note: Romanian newspapers reported that she was 12, but she didn’t turn 12 until November of 1973. This competition happened in April of 1973.

In the words of Sportul, the sports newspaper in Romania, Comăneci “excited not only the spectators in the Floreasca Hall, but also the foreign specialists present at this contest, who also applauded her very warmly.”

Here are the results of the competition, as well as the Romanian news coverage and a short encomium of Comăneci.

Sportul, April 16, 1973
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1973 Age Friendship Cup MAG WAG

1972: Comăneci Wins Bars and Beam at the Friendship Cup

Typically, when Americans tell the story of Nadia Comăneci, they start with the 1975 European Championships or the 1976 American Cup. But the truth is that Comăneci made a name for herself in Europe much earlier. One of her first triumphs was at the 1972 Olympic Hopes/Druzhba (Friendship) competition.

If you’ve read Comăneci’s book, Letters to a Young Gymnast, you might recall a brief mention of the competition:

On the heels of failure came my first success, at the 1972 Friendship Cup. Our team’s gymnasts were only ten years old. All gymnasts from the other countries were in their late teens and early twenties. Bela and Marta hadn’t even known how much younger we were before we arrived at the competition because they’d never seen the Soviet gymnasts, let alone the Czechs or Germans, compete. We walked into the arena, tiny little girls with pigtails, facing the likes of Lyudmila Turischeva, a long-legged and unbelievably graceful gymnast from Russia.

[…]

I won the all-around gold at the Friendship Cup. The team won the silver. We had done the unthinkable, beating the best international gymnasts in the world.

Letters to a Young Gymnast

To be sure, Tourischeva did not compete at this meet, female competitors had to be 16 or younger (not in their early 20s), and Comăneci did not win the all-around at the 1972 competition (she did in 1973). That said, her first major success indeed came at the age of 10 in Sofia in 1972, and it paved the way for future international successes — long before the Montreal Olympics.

So, let’s take a look at what was written about the competition in 1972. It was a different time — a time when the Romanian newspapers didn’t know how to properly spell Comăneci’s surname. Nevertheless, the Hungarians could see that Romania was a rising power in gymnastics:

[W]e must keep an eye on the sporting careers of Romanian gymnasts over the age of 10 in the coming years if we want to keep pace with the development of women’s gymnastics.

Sportélet, Sept. 1, 1972
The beam podium at the 1972 Friendship Cup. On the top step are Nadia Comăneci and Krisztina Medveczky. The Hungarian article below mentions the big bows in the Romanian gymnasts’ hair. Image source: Sportélet, Sept. 1, 1972

Note: Noting the factual errors in Comăneci’s book is not a dig at her. If you asked me about details from when I was 10, I would probably get some of the facts wrong, as well.

Note #2: The title of this post spotlights Comăneci because it’s part of a series of posts on her early career.

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1973 China MAG WAG

1973: Yu Liefeng, Xu Guoning, and Cheng Chunxia Win Chinese Nationals

In May of 1973, many of China’s top gymnasts traveled to the United States for a tour and a competition at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Meanwhile, back in China, the country held its national championships. On the men’s side, Yu Liefeng won the all-around, and Xu Guoning and Cheng Chunxia tied for first place on the women’s side.

Below, you can find an article on the competition.

于烈峰(右)获1962年世锦赛鞍马季军后与宋子玉教练合影

Yu Liefeng (right) took a photo with coach Song Ziyu after winning third place on pommel horse at the 1962 World Championships

Source
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1973 China USA

1973: China Travels to the U.S. for a Tour

In May of 1973, the Chinese gymnastics team traveled to New York City, where they competed against U.S. gymnasts at Madison Square Garden. 

This was a big deal. I repeat: A big deal. 

From a gymnastics perspective, the visit was part of China’s re-emergence in the international gymnastics scene. In 1964, China withdrew from the FIG due to the organization’s two China policy, and during the Great Cultural Revolution, Chinese gymnasts all but disappeared from international competitions. Then, in the early 1970s, Chinese gymnasts began to compete in smaller competitions. For example, they traveled to Romania in 1972.

But there was something different about this trip in 1973. Whereas Romania was a communist country, the United States was the symbol of capitalism. So, from a political perspective, the visit signaled the further thawing of U.S-Chinese relations and was further evidence of a pronounced shift in China’s foreign policy. (Previously, U.S. ping pong players had traveled to Beijing in April of 1971, and President Richard Nixon had visited China in February of 1972. More on that in the appendix.)

What follows are the results, as well as newspaper accounts from China and the U.S.

Note: If you’ve watched Gymnastics’ Greatest Stars, this is the competition where the Chinese pianist improvised after Nancy Thies’s tape broke.