1962 Czechoslovakia Floor Music

1962: Czechoslovak Floor Routines — The Story Behind the Routines

In the lead-up to the 1962 World Championships in Prague, the pages of the Czechoslovak sports periodical Stadión were filled with articles and photos related to gymnastics, one of which told the story behind three gymnasts’ floor routines: Hana Růžičková’s, Věra Čáslavská’s, and Eva Bosáková’s. It’s an interesting article, given that the extant videos do not have sound. Plus, the article contrasts the Czechoslovak style with the Soviet style.

This last point is important because, as we look back on the history of the sport, we tend to group old routines together, categorizing them all as “balletic.” But national teams made a conscientious effort to differentiate their routines and styles.

Another factor to consider: The use of music for individual floor routines was relatively new at the time. 1958 was the first time that music for women’s floor was used at a World Championships or Olympics. As a result, countries were trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t work.

1962 Czechoslovakia Interviews & Profiles

1962: A Profile of Hana Růžičková, the 1961 ČSSR Champion

Hana Růžičková didn’t want to be a gymnast. She dreamed of wearing white skating boots, but when those boots never materialized, she started gymnastics in 1956 at the age of fifteen. By 1960, she was a member of the Czechoslovak team that won silver at the Rome Olympics, and one year later, in 1961, Hana Růžičková was the surprise champion of the Czechoslovak Championships. (Věra Čáslavská fell off beam, and Růžičková was able to capitalize on it.) 

What follows is a translation of a profile on Růžičková. It was printed in February of 1962, a few weeks after her win at the 1961 Czechoslovak Championships. Not only does it tell the story of a gymnast from a small village who had to balance work, training, and a long commute, but it also raises broader questions, such as: At what age should athletes start special training?

[Note: The age at which Růžičková started gymnastics sometimes varies in articles. For example, the report on the 1961 Championships suggested that she started in 1958.]

1961 Czechoslovakia MAG WAG

1961: Šťastný and Růžičková Win the Czechoslovak Championships

In 1961, the Czechoslovak Championships were exciting on the women’s side. Coming into the championships, Věra Čáslavská was the clear favorite. At the Rome Olympics in 1960, she finished eighth in the all-around, the highest finish among the Czechoslovak gymnasts. Then, she tied for third at the 1961 European Championships, finishing behind Larisa Latynina and Polina Astakhova. But, despite her promising international results, Čáslavská had never won a senior national all-around title. 

In 1961, it seemed like the title would finally be Čáslavská’s, but she fell off the beam. And Czechoslovak star Eva Bosáková had a major error on bars. Hana Růžičková was able to capitalize on those mistakes and win the Czechoslovak title. (East German gymnast Ute Starke was a foreign guest and technically had the highest all-around title in the competition.)

On the men’s side, the competition was more anti-climactic. Jaroslav Šťastný, the best gymnast on the Czechoslovak team at the 1961 European Championships, took home the title. (Though, Aleksander Rokosa, a Polish guest, technically had the highest all-around total in the competition.)

Here’s a bit more about the competition.

1968 Czechoslovakia Interviews & Profiles WAG

1968: An Interview with Čáslavská before the Olympics

Right before the Mexico City Olympics, the Czech-language magazine Reportér printed a long interview with Věra Čáslavská. It covered a wide range of topics: her relationship with the media, her superstitions, her relationship with her coach, her first World Championships, and more.

You can read a translation below…

1967 Czechoslovakia Interviews & Profiles WAG

1967: Coach Matlochová Discusses Čáslavská’s Preparation for Mexico City

At the end of 1967, Věra Čáslavská was on top of the gymnastics world. She had won the all-around at the 1964 Olympics, the 1965 European Champions, the 1966 World Championships, and the 1967 European Championships. In fact, at the 1965 and 1967 European Championships, she swept the gold medals, and in 1967, she scored two perfect 10s.

But how do you ensure that a golden gymnast stays golden? That was the question that the reporter Robert Bakalář posed to Jaroslava Matlochová, Čáslavská’s coach, in an interview published at the end of 1967.

Note: Matlochová would become a part of the Women’s Technical Committee in 1968.

1965 1967 Books Czechoslovakia European Championships

Čáslavská’s Remembers the 1967 Euros in “The Road to Olympus”

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.

European gymnastics championships, Vera Caslavska being jockeyed, May 28, 1967, championships, gymnastics, The Netherlands
1966 Books Czechoslovakia WAG World Championships

Čáslavská’s Reaction to the 1966 Worlds in “The Road to Olympus”

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.

(GERMANY OUT) Die tschechische Kunstturnerin Vera Caslavska auf dem Schwebebalken, aufgenommen bei den Kunstturn-Weltmeisterschaften in Dortmund am 24.09.66. . (Photo by Schirner/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
1958 Books Czechoslovakia WAG World Championships

Čáslavská’s Early Years in “The Road to Olympus”

In 1972, Věra Čáslavská published her autobiography, The Road to Olympus (Cesta na Olymp). It provides a detailed recounting of her early days through the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

As a child, Čáslavská was a mischievous and funny child. Though a performer at heart, she struggled with stage fright until her mother helped her work through it, and as an adult, she came to see it as an asset. 

Čáslavská started with ballet, then added ice skating, and finally found gymnastics. Initially, she trained under Czechoslovak gymnastics legend Eva Bosáková, and when Bosáková was away with the national team, Čáslavská used to sneak into the gym to train. Given her relationship with Bosáková, Čáslavská found it difficult to beat her mentor.

From the start, the international crowd loved Čáslavská. At the age of 16, during her first World Championships in 1958, Čáslavská wowed the audience in Moscow — so much so that the public demanded a performance by Čáslavská, even though she didn’t make the floor finals.

Below, I’ve translated sections of Čáslavská’s autobiography, tracing her early years in sports through to her first World Championships in Moscow in 1958.

The cover of Čáslavská’s autobiography