In 1971, Ilona Békési was a rising star in the European gymnastics community, and at the 1971 Hungarian Masters Championships, she won gold in every event. One year later, she would lead the Hungarian women’s team to a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.
Note: Békési and the Hungarian women often get overlooked in English-language histories of gymnastics. So, this is the first of many posts that will provide a glimpse into Hungarian gymnastics in the early 1970s.
In a competition advertised as “Japan vs. Europe” in Bern, Switzerland, the Japanese men and women were supposed to compete against Europe’s best gymnasts. In the end, the marketing overpromised. Only some of the top European gymnasts competed. Notably absent were the Soviets and East Germans.
Nevertheless, there was some excitement. On the men’s side, Kato Sawao, the 1968 all-around gold medalist, returned to competition after an Achilles tear. On the women’s side, Ilona Békési had a breakout performance, even after the uneven bars collapsed literally on top of her.
Reminder: This naming convention would be quite common at competitions like “The USSR vs. the World.”
In 1969, the United States Gymnastics Federation invited the Soviet Union to its World Cup, but the Soviet Union did not attend. In 1971, the winds changed, and the Soviet Union traveled to the U.S. for dual meets at Penn State and Temple University.
What follows are remarks on the competition at Penn State (February 5 and 6, 1971).
Note: It should be noted that this gymnastics competition was not the first sporting event between the two countries during the Cold War. In 1962, for example, there was a U.S. vs. USSR track and field dual meet.
In 1971, the Men’s Technical Committee issued an update to the 1968 Code of Points. But instead of printing a new document, they printed pages that were meant to be pasted over certain sections of the 1968 Code of Points. As you’ll see, the document has a funky layout as a result.
This supplement is important for two reasons. First, it established the individual all-around final. Second, it placed even more emphasis on risk, originality, and virtuosity.
Reminder: At the time, the women’s Code of Points did not have any requirements for risk, originality, and virtuosity.
The 1970 World Championships were a pivotal moment in the history of gymnastics. Men’s vault was considered boring in the late 1960s. But that changed at the 1970 World Championships when Tsukahara unveiled his namesake vault. The crowd loved it. In fact, during the optionals portion of the World Championships, the crowd protested Tsukahara’s 9.75.
Note: If you want to be extremely pretentious, you can call a “Tsukahara” a “Tivoli Vault.” Reportedly, that’s what Tsukahara was going to name the vault.
In addition to the debut of the Tsukahara vault, Kenmotsu, the 1970 World All-Around Champion, attempted a triple twist on floor. After the 1968 Olympics, he spent two years trying to personalize his gymnastics. It’s debatable whether or not he achieved his goal. Endo, Japan’s head coach at the time, bluntly said, “What sets Kenmotsu apart from others? I do not know very well.” Ouch.
Here’s what else happened at the 1970 World Championships…
If you were going to remove one event from the men’s program, which would it be?
In 1969, vault in men’s artistic gymnastics was a major sticking point. Gymnasts were performing the same vault over and over, and some thought that the hand zones were pointless. At an FIG coaches’ meeting, some even thought that the apparatus should be eliminated.
On May 24 and 25, 1969, just months after the Olympic Games, the top male gymnasts in Europe gathered in Warsaw for the European Championships. As expected, the Soviet gymnasts dominated the meet.
In 1969, the rules for the European Championships changed. Each country could send three gymnasts instead of two. (Meanwhile, in women’s artistic gymnastics, countries continued to send only two gymnasts to the European Championships.) But the Soviet gymnasts were unable to sweep the all-around podium because Lisitsky had a major break on pommel horse.