Before Nadia Comăneci’s and Nellie Kim’s perfect 10s at the 1976 Olympic Games, there was a long line of gymnasts who obtained perfect scores at the Olympic Games, the World Championships, or the European Championships. (Originally, the World Championships were called the International Tournament.)
Some of them even managed perfect totals, meaning that they received the maximum score for their compulsory and optional routines combined.
So, here’s a chronological list of the gymnasts who were “perfect” before Comăneci and Kim.
French gymnasts had been the victors at the first International Tournaments in 1903 and 1905, but the Czech Sokols ended that streak in 1907 when they hosted the International Tournament in Prague.
A rivalry was forming between the two top teams in Europe: the Czech Sokols and the French. However, the Czech media subtly questioned how European the rivalry was, given that France’s best gymnasts were from Algeria. (The International Tournament was a competition run by the Bureau of European Gymnastics Federations.)
Regardless, the French Algerian gymnasts stole the show in Luxembourg in 1909. In fact, one of them registered two perfect event totals, scoring the maximum number of points for both the compulsory and optional routines on not just one but two events.
Note: French Algerian gymnasts had competed in previous International Tournaments. However, the gymnasts’ place of origin hadn’t been a major topic in the media coverage prior to 1909. The topics of empire and Eurocentrism, though fascinating, are far too thorny to broach in a competition recap.
Almost 70 years before Nadia Comăneci and Nellie Kim scored their perfect 10s at the Montreal Olympics, there were several perfect scores awarded during the 1907 International Tournament. (The International Tournament was the original name for the World Championships.)
The majority of those perfect scores were for the French team. Nevertheless, the Czech Sokols, newcomers to the International Tournament, took first, ending the French team’s winning streak.
Oh, and, in 1907, one of the first age controversies in gymnastics occurred.
Did you know that, once upon a time, there weren’t gold, silver, and bronze medals at the World Championships? Instead, there was a collection of art, and each team chose which piece of art they wanted. Winners got to choose first.
These are the little tidbits that you learn when you stumble across the rules for old gymnastics meets. Let’s take a look at the rules for the 1907 International Tournament (now called the World Championships).
In 1938, Eugen Mack had yet another perfect score on vault. However, it wasn’t enough to beat the Czechoslovak team.
The Swiss team struggled in athletics (and rings). Shot put, in particular, dashed their hopes of becoming world champions.
Reusch, one of the top Swiss gymnasts, had a particularly rough time with athletics. Though Reusch won four apparatus titles, his scores didn’t count for the team total, which was based on the top six all-around scores. Reusch finished 7th on his team and 24th in the all-around overall. He scored a 0 in shot put (7.45 m).
Have you ever seen an old rulebook for the World Championships? Well, you’re in luck. In this article, you can find the official rulebook for the 1938 World Championships in Prague, as well as a translation of the sections.
From a historian’s perspective, this rulebook is important because it is a precursor to the 1949 Code of Points, specifying deductions and including lengthy criteria for evaluating compulsory routines.
Confusion bookended the 1934 World Championships in Budapest.
Before the competition started, Germany showed up at the FIG Congress, wanting to become a member of the FIG and participate in the 1934 World Championships.
That was not the typical protocol. Usually, countries didn’t seek admission just hours before a competition started. So, the FIG Congress had to answer the question: if the German federation becomes a member one day, can German gymnasts compete at the World Championships the next day?
That was the first source of confusion. After the competition ended, the second source of confusion cropped up. The gymnastics community realized that the initial results had been miscalculated, and all the results had to be recalculated.
The men’s competition at the 1928 Olympics was a close battle between Czechoslovakia and Switzerland. It came down to the very last event, vault, on which Czechoslovak gymnast Šupčík fell and on which Swiss gymnast Eugen Mack received a perfect score for his compulsory routine.
Modern gymnastics fans might be surprised to know that one of the countries performed to music. During its ensemble floor routine, Yugoslavia told the history of its nation through music and movement. (Technically, it wasn’t Yugoslavia at the time but rather the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes or SHS for short.)
Of course, there was a fair share of judging drama. It’s gymnastics.
Unfortunately, there were some organizational problems, too. Due to a mathematical error, the wrong person received the bronze medal on rings.