Today’s gymnastics fans may know Joan Moore as the mother of Ashleigh Gnat, a standout on the LSU gymnastics team. But in 1972, she was one of the best tumblers in the world, opening her floor routine with a high double full and doing a front layout — a rare skill that Japanese men’s artistic gymnast Nakayama Akinori also competed.
The Philadelphia newspapers wrote a lot about Moore, and their profiles raised perennial questions:
How can elite athletes balance school with training?
How do parents manage their children’s gymnastics careers?
Should the U.S. government do more to sponsor elite athletes?
How should gymnasts be educated?
How many stuffed mice does Joan Moore have?
Enjoy these profiles of Moore from before and after the Munich Olympics.
In 1972, Cathy Rigby was the “it girl” in the United States. Not only had she won a silver medal on beam at the 1970 World Championships; the American public and media were enamored with her (and her looks). The Tribune out of San Luis Obispo printed:
Cathy Rigby looks more like a windup doll than a world-class athlete. She has a pixie face, large brown eyes, and her blond hair is usually tied in bows. Furthermore, she is only 4’11”, and weighs a mere 92 pounds, a stature that earns her the title “Peanut” from her coach, Bud Marquette, of the Southern California Acro Team of Long Beach. At 19, Cathy may be the finest all-around female gymnast in the world.
May 6, 1972
Famously, Rigby posed nude for Sports Illustrated in 1972 — a move that received backlash from both the FIG and her fellow teammates on the Olympic team. Linda Metheny reportedly was not pleased with the photos. The Dispatch out of Moline, IL, wrote:
There is even an interesting little squabble taking place among members of the United States women’s gymnastics team. Linda Metheny of Champaign, Ill., and Cathy Rigby of California are vying for the honor of being known as the nation’s outstanding female gymnast, and they aren’t friendly. When Miss Rigby’s nude photo appeared in a gymnastics pose in Sports Illustrated magazine this weekend, Miss Metheny — and presumably others — took offense.
At least that isn’t a political issue, and the gals may have scratched at each other and fought that issue out on the weekend plane ride to Germany.
The Dispatch, August 21, 1972
Even before the photos came out, the topics of nudity and gymnasts’ bodies were discussed in the same breath. In an article about the U.S. women’s performance in a dual meet with Japan, Ginny Coco stated:
“You want all the curves to be there in the right places,” said Mrs. Ginny Coco, women’s coach for the meet here, “but not at the level Hugh Hefner might want for the Playboy image. Voluptuous girls don’t win in gymnastics. You want lean, strong girls, the race horse type.”
Warren Times-Mirror and Observer, Feb. 3, 1972
When the articles focused on Cathy Rigby’s gymnastics rather than her appearance, they tended to portray her as a fearless trickster, who had a knack for learning skills quickly.
Here’s a small collection of profiles on Cathy Rigby from 1972…
Note: The articles below will mention Rigby’s weight and eating habits. Rigby would later discuss her struggles with bulimia.
Going into the 1972 Olympics, Tamara Lazakovich was one of the favorites. At the 1971 European Championships, she tied with Ludmilla Tourischeva for all-around gold. In addition, she won gold medals on the uneven bars and balance beam, as well as silver medals on vault and floor exercise. At the time, Berthe Villancher, President of the Women’s Technical Committee, held Lazakovich up as the ideal on beam.
The magazine Soviet Life ran a short profile of Lazakovich before the Olympics. It gives the details of her career.
Note: You can read an interview with Lazakovich here. It gives some interesting details about her career. For example, Lazakovich wanted to quit the sport.
In 1971, Viktor Klimenko won the all-around at the European Championships, but he tore his Achilles tendon during warmups the next day. Mikhail Klimenko, his brother, was his coach, and he knew firsthand what it was like to go through a significant injury. While Mikhail would later become known for being Elena Mukhina’s coach, he once was remembered as a junior national champion, who had to quit due to injury.
What follows is a 1972 profile of the two brothers from Nedelia.
After the 1972 Olympics, the Hungarian sports newspaper Népsport ran a profile of Zoltán Magyar. It portrays the teenager as an angsty and absent-minded gymnast who sometimes forgets to show up for practice. But it recognizes that Magyar had the potential to become one of the best pommel workers in the world.
Note: For those who don’t know much about pommel horse, Magyar was known for his ability to travel down the pommel horse while touching the saddle of the horse (the leather part between the pommels). It’s challenging to use this part of the horse because you have to lift your legs above the pommel in the front and above the pommel in the back.
So, with no further ado, here’s the profile on Magyar.
In 1972, the Hungarian team won bronze at the Olympics, yet little has been written about the team’s gymnasts in the English language. To give some personality to the names in the record books, I’ve translated newspaper profiles of three gymnasts: Ilona Békesi, Krisztina Medveczky, and Monika Császár.
Ilona Békési was indisputably the top gymnast on the team. At the 1971 Hungarian Nationals, she swept every event, and as you’ll see, she was often portrayed as a tenacious gymnast with great willpower. Krisztina Medveczky was depicted as the young, wide-eyed teammate who was only 14 when she made the team. And Monika Császár was a humble gymnast who did not enjoy the spotlight.
Erika Zuchold was an integral part of East Germany’s rise in women’s gymnastics. She missed the 1964 Olympics due to an Achilles tear, but when she returned to competition, she was one of the leaders of the German team at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics.
Zuchold earned a total of 10 World and Olympic medals. She was known for her impressive Yamashita on vault and is often credited as the first gymnast to perform a back handspring on beam. Today’s fans know her because her name lives on in the Code of Points for the Zuchold transition on uneven bars.
At the 1970 World Championships, Zuchold came back from a meniscus tear (and “other complicated injuries”) and won gold on both vault and beam.
As you’ll see below, she was also a lover of ice cream.
What follows is a profile of Zuchold that ran in Neue Zeit right before the Olympic Games.
Edvard Mikaelian was part of the Soviet teams that finished second at the 1972 Olympics and 1974 World Championships. In the lead-up to the Munich Olympics, he finished sixth at the USSR Championships and fourth at the USSR Cup. At the Olympics, he tied for 20th in the all-around.
The following interview, printed in the Czechoslovak weekly Stadión, fleshes out the character of one of the lesser-known members of the Soviet men’s team. It portrays him as a trendy, fashionable citizen of the world, who loved both ballet and American rock and roll, including the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and, of all things, the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
Note: This profile includes an anecdote that would no longer be socially acceptable to print today.
The USSR Championships were the first major domestic challenge for the Soviet gymnasts on the road to Munich, and they were full of surprises.
Nikolai Andrianov, who was third at the 1971 European Championships, won the all-around, defeating both Voronin and Klimenko. But on the second day of competition, which didn’t count toward his all-around total, he found himself sitting on the parallel bars.
And Ludmilla Tourischeva finally won the all-around title at the USSR Championships. Yes, she had won both the European and World all-around titles before she won the USSR Championships. (She had won the USSR Cup in 1969 and 1971.) She, too, had a major error during the competition.
Afterward, the Soviet media produced video profiles of both champions. You can find the videos, transcripts, and translations below.
From 1956 until 1962, Larisa Latynina dominated the all-around at the major international gymnastics competitions. Then, it was Věra Čáslavská’s turn, and she won the major all-around titles from 1964 until 1968.
Once Čáslavská retired from the sport, there was a power vacuum. The title of the world’s best female gymnast was up for grabs. Who would win the all-around title in 1970? Would it be Karin Janz, who won the all-around at the European Championships in 1969?
The gymnastics world had its reservations about Karin Janz. Sure, she had tremendous difficulty, but she lacked “femininity and softness.” Words like “machine” and “mechanical” were often used to describe her gymnastics.
The following profile of Janz, printed in the Czechoslovak magazine Stadión before the 1970 World Championships, summarizes many conflicted sentiments about the East German teenager.