In 1974, Kasamatsu Shigeru became only the second Japanese gymnast to win the all-around title at the World Championships. (Kenmotsu won it in 1970.) However, his win was not without controversy. With only 0.125 separating Kasamatsu and Andrianov, some thought that Kasamatsu should have won while others thought that Andrianov should have won.
As we’ll see, much of the coverage focused on what happened during the last rotation on October 26, 1974.
Reminder: This was the first World Championships with an all-around final. (The Munich Olympics were the first Olympic Games to include an all-around final.)
In 1974, not much changed in terms of the top standings. Japan won its fourth-straight team title, the Soviet Union won its fourth-straight team silver at the World Championships, and East Germany won its third-straight team bronze at the World Championships.
That said, it wasn’t a boring competition by any stretch of the imagination. Innovation was flourishing in men’s gymnastics. For example:
Bernd Jäger adapted Karin Janz’s salto for high bar, performing the now-famous Jäger release.
Nikolai Andrianov did a triple back off high bar.
Both he and his teammate Vladimir Marchenko did full-twisting double backs on floor. (Marchenko had performed one earlier that year in Riga.)
Janós Sivadó did his eponymous travel on pommel horse.
Vladimir Safronov and Kasamatsu Shigeru performed full-twisting Tsukaharas. The skill is now called a Kasamatsu, and Safronov has been forgotten.
Here’s what else happened during competitions 1a (Tuesday, October 22, 1974) and 1b (Thursday, October 24, 1974) in Varna, Bulgaria.
Before Simone Biles had a kidney stone at the 2018 World Championships, there was Miloslav Netušil of Czechoslovakia. But unlike Biles, who went on to win six medals in Doha, Netušil had to seek medical treatment in the middle of the 1972 Olympic Games. He posted a 54.50 during compulsories and had to withdraw before the second day of the men’s competition (optionals). As a result, the Czechoslovak team was forced to finish the team competition with only five team members.
Below, you can find a short profile of Netušil, who was a three-time Olympian (1968, 1972, and 1976). He died earlier this year.
Gymnastics was new to the Asian Games in 1974, and there were a few surprises.
First, China was present. Though China was competing in more dual meets in countries like Romania and the United States, China was not part of the FIG or the IOC at the time due to the organizations’ recognition of Taiwan. The organizers of the Asian Games broke ranks by inviting China and revoking Taiwan’s membership. This was a big deal at the time. (More on that below.)
Second, China had quite the medal haul. On the women’s side, Chinese gymnasts swept the all-around podium, and on the men’s side, China won the men’s team title, beating Japan. The competition was held just weeks before the World Championships in Varna — with the Asian Games happening in early September and the World Championships in late October. As a result, Japan did not send its top gymnasts to the Asian Games, and to make matters worse, one of Japan’s gymnasts tore his Achilles during the first event.
As you’ll see below, Arthur Gander, the president of the FIG, took an essentialist position and attributed China’s success to their bodies, stating, “A Chinese is a very well-formed human being, better formed than a Japanese, for instance.” (Because all Chinese people have the same body?)
Finally — and maybe this is less of a surprise — there was reportedly tension between the North and South Korean delegations.
The Latvian newspaper Sports did interviews with Natalia Kuchinskaya and Klaus Köste at the 1974 edition of the Riga International. At the time, Kuchinskaya, one of the stars of the 1966 World Championships and 1968 Olympic Games, was working in Ukraine as a choreographer. Klaus Köste, the 1972 Olympic champion on vault, had retired from the sport and then came back.
Below, you can find translations of their interviews. You can find a report on the 1974 competition in Riga here.
Days after the 1974 edition of Moscow News, gymnasts traveled to Latvia for the 1974 Riga International. By holding these competitions in succession, delegations could get more for their money. Instead of flying to the Soviet Union for one meet, they could now fly to the Soviet Union for two meets:
Vice President of the International Gymnastics Federation and Olympic champion, Yuri Titov, said that holding two such large competitions one right after another is tremendously beneficial. Athletes, who have traveled a long way to our country, are happy to demonstrate their skills multiple times. And many experts think that gymnasts will exhibit emotionally charged performance full of new technical components in Riga.
Sports, Latvjijas PSR Sporta biedribu izdevums, Nr. 49, March 26, 1974
Starptautiskās vingrošanas federācijas viceprezidents olimpiskais čempions Jurijs Titovs teica, ka ir ļoti lietderīgi rīkot divas tik plašas sacensības pēc kārtas. Sportisti, kuri mērojuši tālu ceļu uz mūsu zemi, savu meistarību labprāt vēlas demonstrēt vairākkārt. Un daudzi speciālisti uzskata, ka tieši Rīgā vingrotāji rādīs emocionālas un jauniem tehniskiem elementiem bagātas kompozīcijas.
Gymnasts often debuted new skills in Riga. In 1972, Tsukahara Mitsuo did a full-twisting double back off high bar, and Beate Gehrke did one of the first Tsukaharas in women’s artistic gymnastics. In 1973, Nikolai Andrianov did a double pike on floor. (At the European Championships that year, he did a full-twisting double tuck off rings.) Then, one year later, in 1974, Vladimir Marchenko did one of the first full-twisting double backs on floor at a large international competition. (Video below.)
By all accounts, the women’s all-around in 1974 was a nail-biting competition between Lidia Gorbik and Nellie Kim. Kim needed a 9.6 during the final rotation to win. She got a 9.5.
Moscow News, Russia’s oldest English-language newspaper, held its first gymnastics competition in 1974. Over the years, legends like Nellie Kim, Yelena Shushunova, Yelena Mukhina, Natalia Yurchenko, Svetlana Boginskaya, Bogdan Makuts, Dmitri Bilozerchev, Valeri Liukin, to name a few, won the all-around title at this competition.
In 1974, the competition drew several top 1972 Olympians, including gold medalists Elvira Saadi (URS), Viktor Klimenko (URS), Klaus Köste (GDR), Tsukahara Mitsuo (JPN), and Kenmotsu Eizo (JPN).
From a historical perspective, the 1974 competition is important because Yelena Abramova (URS) landed the first double back on women’s floor at a large international competition. As Sovetsky Sport reported, “It was not perfect though.”
Here’s what was reported about the event at that time.
Japan’s winning streak at the University Games ended in 1973. From 1961 until 1970, they won every all-around title in men’s gymnastics, and when team awards were added to the gymnastics competition in 1963, they won four consecutive Universiade team titles.
But in Moscow in 1973, the Soviet Union won the Universiade team title and swept the all-around podium. In fact, Japan went home without a single gold medal — not even in the event finals. (Event finals and the all-around final were new to the Universiade in 1973.) As you’ll see below, the Japanese delegation thought that there was some suspicious judging at play.
Setting aside the question of judging for a moment, there was a lot of exciting gymnastics in 1973.
In a 1971 bulletin, Arthur Gander, who was president of the FIG at the time, published a long series of remarks about the state of optional exercises in men’s gymnastics. Gander’s article touches upon some of the challenges in both men’s and women’s gymnastics that persist to this day.
For example, monotony. Even in the era of risk, originality, and virtuosity, there were certain skills and combinations that had almost become compulsory. (Granted, risk, originality, and virtuosity were still in their infancy at that point.)
Side saltos. Gymnastics fans love to hate on side saltos on beam, and guess what! Arthur Gander didn’t like them, either, on men’s floor!
Value assignments. What constitutes an A, B, or C part? Should such-and-such skill really be a C? Yup, the FIG was wrestling with those questions back in the day, as well.
There’s also the question of nostalgia. As you read Gander’s remarks, you might find yourself wondering, Does Mr. Gander want to see these skills because they would add variety or because they are representative of a different era of gymnastics? And how often does nostalgia for a past era color our view of gymnastics today?
Finally, the fear of the “feminization” of men’s gymnastics. Though Gander believed that men could learn a thing or two from women’s uneven bars, he feared that men’s floor exercise could become too feminine, especially if floor music were included. It’s a question that has been raised as gymnasts like Heath Thorpe (AUS) incorporate more leaps into their floor routines.
Another interesting tidbit: Gander mentions that the IOC was not pleased with men’s vault in 1968, questioning whether the event was worthy of an Olympic medal.
Below, you’ll find my translation of Gander’s remarks. (The FIG provided its own English translation in its bulletin, but the translation was quite rough and difficult to follow.)