No surprise: Věra Čáslavská won the Czechoslovak Championships in April ahead of the 1967 European Championships. The big news was that she had upgraded her routines, adding a front handspring to needle scale on beam, as well as a full-twisting hecht dismount from the upper rail on uneven bars.
Let’s take a look at what happened at the 1967 Czechoslovak Nationals.
Jaroslava Matlochová was a fixture of the gymnastics community for decades — both as a coach and as a member of the Women’s Technical Committee. In fact, she was one of the early champions of relying on younger gymnasts in women’s artistic gymnastics. Yet, little has been written about her online.
So, here’s a translation of a profile on her, printed in Stadión just after the Czechoslovak women’s team took gold at the Dortmund World Championships.
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.
Bohumila Řimnáčová was a member of the Czechoslovak team that won gold at the 1966 World Championships, silver at the 1968 Olympic Games, and bronze at the 1970 World Championships. Injuries prevented her from competing at the 1964 Olympic Games.
The following profile, printed in Stadión before the Dortmund World Championships in 1966, traces Řimnáčová’s career that took off after she answered a newspaper ad. Like many Czech gymnasts from this era, she originally wanted to be a figure skater.
With three months to go until the World Championships, the Czechoslovak women’s team looked strong at the national championships. Not only did Čáslavská score a 10.0 on floor, but they had seven gymnasts score a 76.00 or better in the all-around.
On the men’s side, there was much rumination about what went wrong in Tokyo. At the 1962 World Championships, the Czechoslovak men were third. At the 1964 Olympic Games, they dropped to sixth. Sotorník, the head coach of the team, even mentions his team’s work with a psychologist.
Here’s the coverage of the 1966 Czechoslovak Championships from the sports magazine Stadión.
The Czechoslovak men’s team used to be the strongest program in the world. The Czech Sokols won the team titles at the 1907, 1911, 1913, 1922, 1926, 1930, and 1938 World Championships. After World War II, Czechoslovakia’s highest finish at the World Championships was third (1958 and 1962).
So, what happened? Why was their program struggling? In 1963, Stadión ran an article that offered several theories on this topic. The main concern was a lack of depth.
This lack of depth was, in part, due to the amount of dedication that gymnastics takes. “Gymnastics needs all of one’s free time. And so the boys leave and are content to perform some kind of handstand or somersault in the swimming pool.”
Another reason was Czechoslovakia’s mandatory military service, which happened at an age when male gymnasts are just starting to gain the strength required for high-level gymnastics. One unit — Dukla in Prague — was good at developing gymnasts while those who go to other military units do not progress. As a result, many male gymnasts’ development fell by the wayside at the age of 19.
In addition to the question of depth, there was a lack of consistency in the training methodologies throughout the various regions. And generally speaking, there seemed to be misguided routine composition among the top Czechoslovak men.
In 1963, Japanese gymnasts traveled to Czechoslovakia for a dual meet. Not surprisingly, the Soviets, specifically Yuri Titov, made a trip to Czechoslovakia to film the routines, and the East Germans were there with their notepads.
According to an article in the Czechoslovak sports magazine Stadión, the Japanese men’s artistic gymnasts were breaking new ground on rings and high bar, while the Czechoslovak women’s artistic gymnasts were showing original elements on beam and floor. (Though, the Japanese women’s artistic gymnasts were the queens of turns on beam.)
Here’s a short account of what happened.
Reminder: This was a competition between the top teams in the world. The Czechoslovak men’s team finished third at the 1962 World Championships while the Japanese men finished first. The Czechoslovak women’s team finished second in 1962 while the Japanese women finished third.
When Čáslavská won the vault title at the 1962 World Championships, Vladimír Prorok was her coach. He was the 1955 European Champion on floor exercise, and when he was coaching Čáslavská in the early 1960s, he was a relatively new but highly dedicated coach — one whom “foreign countries look up to with envy and speak of with the utmost respect.”
Note: Prorok also means “prophet” in Czech. Hence the prophecy references throughout this piece.