In 1970, the Women’s Technical Committee set the competitive age limit at 14. One year later, they issued an explanation of sorts. It included a warning to members, recognizing that abusive methods were leaving child gymnasts damaged. By setting the age limit at 14, their hope was to see more “mature work” that displayed a “woman’s charm.”
Here’s what was recorded in the 1971 FIG bulletins about the question of age in women’s artistic gymnastics.
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 1972, there was a change of the guard on the Women’s Technical Committee (WTC). Berthe Villancher, who had been the president of the WTC since 1956, finally stepped down. Valerie Nagy took her place.
Below, you can find Berthe Villancher’s thoughts on her final competition as the president of the Women’s Technical Committee, as well as what was top of mind for Valeri Nagy (Jenőné Nagy in Hungarian) when she was elected.
All in all, Villancher was pleased with how the 1972 Olympics turned out. Known for her interventions among the judges, she was happy that she did not have to intervene in as many judging controversies.
In 1928, the 15th FIG Congress took place on August 6 in Amsterdam. It was the first meeting of the delegates after the death of Nicolas J. Cupérus, the man who led the FIG for 43 years.
The minutes are fascinating because they show the struggle between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to define the sport of gymnastics.
Is pole vault a gymnastics event or an athletics event?
In the view of the FIG, it was a gymnastics event, especially since it required the use of apparatus. (It was also part of Jahn’s seminal text, Die Deutsche Turnkunst, though that point did not come up in conversations.) But the IOC didn’t share the FIG’s view.
*Cue dramatic music.*
Reminder: Track and field events like pole vault were part of the World Championships (originally called the International Tournament) until 1950. Here’s a full list of events during the major men’s gymnastics competitions from 1896 until 1950.
There are pivotal moments in the history of gymnastics — those moments when the sport could have gone in a very different direction.
One of those inflection points was the 1909 FIG Congress. Not much was decided in 1909 because the attendees had wildly divergent views on competition formats.
One proposal called for blind compulsories. In other words, the gymnasts would attend a competition, where they would be shown the compulsories that they had to compete. They wouldn’t know beforehand what to practice.
Can you imagine? The history of gymnastics would look very different if that proposal had been accepted.
That said, not every idea was as wild as blind compulsories. For instance, there was a desire to form a permanent technical committee, which eventually happened decades later.
Which gymnastics federations should be allowed to join the Bureau of European Gymnastics Associations (now the FIG)?
How are the International Tournaments different from the Olympic Games? Should there even be an International Tournament? They are costly to run, and President Cupérus was originally opposed to the idea of gymnastics competitions.
These are some of the questions that the Bureau of European Gymnastics Associations had to answer during the 1907 Congress.
In my post about the 1964 Olympic Games, I mentioned China’s withdrawal from the FIG. Over the holidays, I was able to find the official statement from the Gymnastics Association of the People’s Republic of China.
Below, you can find a translation, as well as the original in Chinese.