In Voronin’s 1976 autobiography titled Number One (Первый номер), he reflects on his final Olympic Games. By his standards, he struggled during the Soviet competitions prior to the Olympics, and while in Munich, he injured his ankle. Arthur Gander refused to let him pull out of the all-around final, so he competed after receiving an injection that made him black out. (Note: Korbut also got an injection before the all-around final that caused her legs to go numb.)
In the end, the Soviet men’s team won two golds, three silvers, and one bronze. They had made progress in the two years between the Ljubljana World Championships and the Munich Olympics. But in the end, Voronin recognized that they were unable to put together a team that could match Japan’s team.
Here’s what else he said about Munich…
Note: Chapters of Voronin’s book were translated into Estonian for the newspaper Spordileht, and I have translated the text from Estonian into English. The following excerpts come from the February 8, 1978, February 10, 1978, and February 13, 1978 issues of Spordileht.
At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, both Voronin and the Soviet team took silver. In Voronin’s 1976 autobiography titled Number One (Первый номер), he underscores that 1968 was a low point for him:
Yes, the  Olympics left a deep mark on me. The tension was huge. I fought the Japanese alone, without the support of my comrades, and the increased responsibility drained me of all my mental and physical strength. The pain of loss was so great and humiliating that it shattered my faith in my own strength.
Jah, olümpiamängud jätsid minusse sügava jälje. Närvipinge oli tohutu. Heitlesin jaapanlastega üksinda, kaaslaste toetuseta ja sellest suurenenud vastutus pitsitas minust välja kogu vaimu- ja kehajõu. Kaotusevalu oli nii suur ja alandav, et põrmustas usu oma jõusse.
And he places the blame squarely at the feet of Valentin Muratov, the head coach of the Soviet team at that time. To support his point, Voronin highlights the misleading overscoring at domestic meets, the bizarre line-up order that upset both Voronin and Diomidov at the Olympics, Muratov’s insults, and the failure to block Kato Sawao’s 9.90 on floor exercise, where Muratov was the head judge at the Olympics.
At the same time, Voronin does conclude that the Japanese gymnasts were better and that the Soviet team’s expectations were off. The USSR thought that they had caught up to the Japanese team, but in reality, they were far behind.
Note #1: You can see a Soviet clip on Muratov here.
Note #2: Chapters of Voronin’s book were translated into Estonian for the newspaper Spordileht, and I have translated the chapter from Estonian into English. The following excerpts come from the January 16, 1978, January 18, 1978, January 23, 1978, and January 25, 1978 issues of Spordileht.
Note #3: This section of Voronin’s book responds to criticisms found in the pages of Sovetsky Sport, the main sports newspaper of the Soviet Union. You can read the newspaper’s coverage of the Soviet men in Mexico City here.
Like many top gymnasts, Mikhail Voronin did not set out to become a gymnast. He liked soccer and hockey much more. When he was 13, one gymnastics coach looked at his body type and turned him away. But he caught the eye of his physical education teacher, Konstantin Sadikov, and that’s how his journey got started.
As you’ll see below, coaches are often the central characters in Voronin’s 1976 autobiography, Number One (Первый номер), which is understandable. After all, his coaches helped guide him to success, and there was a certain mystique around champion coaches in the international gymnastics community at the time.
At the same time, Voronin is building a larger argument: his career was often mismanaged, and the coaches surrounding him did not always guide him or his teammates in the right way. (This point will be further emphasized in the chapter on the Mexico City Olympics, which will be the subject of the next post.)
Note: Chapters of Voronin’s book were translated into Estonian for the newspaper Spordileht, and I have translated the chapter from Estonian into English. The following excerpts come from the January 11, 1978, January 13, 1978, and January 16, 1978 issues of Spordileht.
What does it feel like to be in the lead after the first day of competition? And what does it feel like to hang onto that lead to win the all-around title?
In his book, Number One (1976), Mikhail Voronin recounts what he was thinking and feeling during the World Championships in Dortmund, where he won the all-around title.
In addition to insights into his inner state, Voronin’s autobiography provides a few details that were not reported widely at the time. For example, the Soviet team had a new coach on the floor during the optional competition in Dortmund because the other coach was too nervous during the compulsory competition. And there are gossipy tidbits like this one: Sergei Diomidov had a fight with his coach before the 1966 World Championships, which made him want to quit the sport.
Below is a translation of the first chapter of Voronin’s book.
Note: The first chapter of Voronin’s book was translated into Estonian for the newspaper Spordileht (published January 4 and 6, 1978), and I have translated the chapter from Estonian into English.
At the 1966 World Championships, the Czechoslovak women’s team finally defeated the Soviet team, and Čáslavská won the all-around title, defeating Kuchinskaya, who reportedly stated before the competition, “I will share the medals with Čáslavská!”
Stadión, a Czechoslovak sports magazine, dedicated several pages to the competition. The article’s tone was blunt in places. It criticized the complacency of the Czechoslovak men’s team, as well as the judges during the women’s event finals and Villancher’s interventions in the judging.
Note: Berthe Villancher, the President of the Women’s Technical Committee, was known for her interventions. For example, she intervened during Čáslavská’s beam routine at the 1968 Olympics and during Tourischeva’s beam routine at the 1969 European Championships.
It also provided interesting tidbits of information. For example, there were spies at the competitions in Czechoslovakia before the World Championships; the Czechoslovak pianist may have been the key to victory; and the Czechoslovak gymnasts’ shoes were believed to have magical powers.
In the penultimate chapter of his autobiography, Boris Shakhlin takes us from the 1958 World Championships in Moscow to the 1966 World Championships in Dortmund. Along the way, he gives us a glimpse into his tactics as a competitor — ways that he and his teammates tried to throw their competitors off their game. He also shares little tidbits of information. For example, did you know that Soviet athletes received one cake for each gold medal that they won?
Here’s a translation of the fourth chapter of Shakhlin’s book.
In the third chapter of My Gymnastics, Boris Shakhlin recalls his move to Kyiv, as well as his participation in the 1954 World Championships, the 1955 Cup of Europe, and the 1956 Olympics. Along the way, he tells some interesting stories:
How Yuri Titov learned to sing songs while doing pommel horse
How Viktor Chukarin survived a concentration camp during World War II
How the gymnasts burned their hands on high bar during the 1954 World Championships in the hot Italian sun
How he got the nickname the Russian Bear
How the all-around gold medal at the 1955 European Cup had a gymnast’s name pre-engraved on it (and it wasn’t his name)
How judging started during podium training — not on the first day of competition.
In 1973, Boris Shakhlin published his autobiography titled My Gymnastics. It is a blend of genres: simultaneously an autobiography, an advice column, and a history of Soviet men’s gymnastics.
In the first two chapters of his book, he recalls his start in gymnastics, being orphaned after the death of his parents, his tiny gym with a ceiling so low that they had to bend their knees to do giants, his journey to becoming a Master of Sport, and, of course, sneaking into the gym to train vault without his coaches. (Čáslavská snuck into her gym, too!)
What follows is a translation of the first two chapters of his book…
After Čáslavská’s disappointment in her performance in Dortmund, she debated if she should take a break from competing. Perhaps she had become too familiar to the judges, one coach suggested. (At one point in this section, Čáslavská recalls how the overly familiar Latynina was ignored during a press conference with Larisa Petrik in 1965.)
To make gymnastics exciting again, she and her coach Matlochová reworked all her routines, adding new elements to every routine. They made practice fun, with Matlochová riding a broom and trying to distract Čáslavská during her beam routines. They set her routines and training cues to music.
Čáslavská went on to compete at the 1967 European Championships. But Čáslavská had her doubts at the beginning of the competition. After a rough bar routine during the first rotation and an exceptional performance by Kuchinskaya on beam, Čáslavská was unsure if she would be able to defend her title. But right before beam, one of her superstitions happened. Someone broke a glass, and she had her lucky shards of glass.
In the end, she became the only gymnast in the history of the European Championships to sweep all five events twice. She even scored two perfect 10.0s during the event finals.
Another interesting tidbit: For someone who ended up on top of the podium many times, Čáslavská disliked being on top of the podium. It made her feel awkward.
So, with no further ado, here’s how Čáslavská recalls the 1967 European Championships in her autobiography from 1972.
Note: You can read more about the 1967 European Championships here and here.
Even though Čáslavská won the all-around and vault titles, and even though the Czechoslovak team defeated the Soviet team, the 1966 World Championships were still a low point for her — one that she hardly remembers. When she returned home from the competition, she received many letters, some of which were hate mail.
What follows is a translation of The Road to Olympus (Cesta na Olymp), Čáslavská’s 1972 autobiography. Here’s how she remembers Dortmund…
Note: You can read the main article on the 1966 World Championships here.