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1967 Interviews & Profiles MAG

1967: Miroslav Cerar, The Last of the Greats

By 1967, Miroslav Cerar had been a major player on the international gymnastics scene for nearly a decade. His first major international competition was the 1958 World Championships in Moscow, where he finished thirteenth in the all-around and third on pommel horse. He was 18 at the time, and as the 1960s progressed, he watched as many of his fellow competitors retired from the sport. In 1967, he was the last of the men’s artistic medalists from the 1958 World Championships to continue competing.

What follows is a translation of an interview that ran in Stadión, a weekly Czechoslovak sports magazine.

Note: The Mohicans were an indigenous tribe from the area that the present-day United States occupy. The title of this article comes from James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel by the same name, the last line of which is, “I have lived to see the last warrior of the wise race of the Mohicans,” referring to Chingachgook. Nowadays, the phrase “the last of the Mohicans” refers to the last survivor of a noble race. I recognize that it’s problematic to call a white European the “last of the Mohicans,” but I can’t go back and change the title of the piece.

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1968 Books MAG Olympics USSR

1968: Voronin on What Went Wrong in Mexico

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, both Voronin and the Soviet team took silver. In Voronin’s 1976 autobiography titled Number One (Первый номер), he underscores that 1968 was a low point for him:

Yes, the [1968] Olympics left a deep mark on me. The tension was huge. I fought the Japanese alone, without the support of my comrades, and the increased responsibility drained me of all my mental and physical strength. The pain of loss was so great and humiliating that it shattered my faith in my own strength.

Jah, olümpiamängud jätsid minusse sügava jälje. Närvipinge oli tohutu. Heitlesin jaapanlastega üksinda, kaaslaste toetuseta ja sellest suurenenud vastutus pitsitas minust välja kogu vaimu- ja kehajõu. Kaotusevalu oli nii suur ja alandav, et põrmustas usu oma jõusse.

And he places the blame squarely at the feet of Valentin Muratov, the head coach of the Soviet team at that time. To support his point, Voronin highlights the misleading overscoring at domestic meets, the bizarre line-up order that upset both Voronin and Diomidov at the Olympics, Muratov’s insults, and the failure to block Kato Sawao’s 9.90 on floor exercise, where Muratov was the head judge at the Olympics.

At the same time, Voronin does conclude that the Japanese gymnasts were better and that the Soviet team’s expectations were off. The USSR thought that they had caught up to the Japanese team, but in reality, they were far behind.

Note #1: You can see a Soviet clip on Muratov here.

Note #2: Chapters of Voronin’s book were translated into Estonian for the newspaper Spordileht, and I have translated the chapter from Estonian into English. The following excerpts come from the January 16, 1978, January 18, 1978, January 23, 1978, and January 25, 1978 issues of Spordileht.

Note #3: This section of Voronin’s book responds to criticisms found in the pages of Sovetsky Sport, the main sports newspaper of the Soviet Union. You can read the newspaper’s coverage of the Soviet men in Mexico City here.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 22: Mikhail Voronin of the Soviet Union competes in the Rings of the Artistic Gymnastics Men’s Team Compulsory during the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games at the National Auditorium on October 22, 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
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Books MAG USSR

Mikhail Voronin on His Early Years in Gymnastics

Like many top gymnasts, Mikhail Voronin did not set out to become a gymnast. He liked soccer and hockey much more. When he was 13, one gymnastics coach looked at his body type and turned him away. But he caught the eye of his physical education teacher, Konstantin Sadikov, and that’s how his journey got started.

As you’ll see below, coaches are often the central characters in Voronin’s 1976 autobiography, Number One (Первый номер), which is understandable. After all, his coaches helped guide him to success, and there was a certain mystique around champion coaches in the international gymnastics community at the time.

At the same time, Voronin is building a larger argument: his career was often mismanaged, and the coaches surrounding him did not always guide him or his teammates in the right way. (This point will be further emphasized in the chapter on the Mexico City Olympics, which will be the subject of the next post.)

Note: Chapters of Voronin’s book were translated into Estonian for the newspaper Spordileht, and I have translated the chapter from Estonian into English. The following excerpts come from the January 11, 1978, January 13, 1978, and January 16, 1978 issues of Spordileht.

Bildnummer: 06139072 Datum: 20.09.1966 Copyright: imago/ITAR-TASS Dortmund. The world competitions in gymnastics. Mikhail Voronin (first place, UDSSR, C), Tsurumi (second place, Japan) and Nakayama (third place, Japan).
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1968 MAG Olympics USSR

1968: Sovetsky Sport’s Critical Coverage of the Soviet Men in Mexico

Sovetsky Sport didn’t hold back when covering the Soviet men’s team at the Mexico Olympics. The main sports newspaper of the Soviet Union pointed fingers at Diomidov and Lisitsky for underperforming. It blamed Muratov, the head judge on floor exercise, for flashing a 9.90 for Kato Sawao’s optional floor routine — a score that bumped Mikhail Voronin to second place in the all-around standings. 

Even Mikhail Voronin was not spared from criticism. On the one hand, the newspaper posited that Voronin was competing without much support from his team. On the other hand, it pointed out that Voronin needed to upgrade his routines to remain competitive.

As we’ll see in an upcoming post, Voronin spent a big chunk of his autobiography responding to the criticism of Sovetsky Sport.

Note: You can find the main articles for the 1968 Olympics here: Compulsories, Optionals, Event Finals). You can find Sovetsky Sport’s coverage of the women’s competition in Mexico City here.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 22: Mikhail Voronin of the Soviet Union competes in the Rings of the Artistic Gymnastics Men’s Team Compulsory during the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games at the National Auditorium on October 22, 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
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1966 Books MAG USSR World Championships

1966: Voronin Remembers His All-Around Victory at the World Championships

What does it feel like to be in the lead after the first day of competition? And what does it feel like to hang onto that lead to win the all-around title? 

In his book, Number One (1976), Mikhail Voronin recounts what he was thinking and feeling during the World Championships in Dortmund, where he won the all-around title.

In addition to insights into his inner state, Voronin’s autobiography provides a few details that were not reported widely at the time. For example, the Soviet team had a new coach on the floor during the optional competition in Dortmund because the other coach was too nervous during the compulsory competition. And there are gossipy tidbits like this one: Sergei Diomidov had a fight with his coach before the 1966 World Championships, which made him want to quit the sport.

Below is a translation of the first chapter of Voronin’s book.

Note: The first chapter of Voronin’s book was translated into Estonian for the newspaper Spordileht (published January 4 and 6, 1978), and I have translated the chapter from Estonian into English.

Datum: 20.09.1966 Copyright: imago/ITAR-TASS Dortmund. The world competitions in gymnastics. Mikhail Voronin (first place, UDSSR, C), Tsurumi (second place, Japan) and Nakayama (third place, Japan).
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1966 Books Czechoslovakia MAG World Championships

1966: Czechoslovak Coverage of the Golden World Championships in Dortmund

At the 1966 World Championships, the Czechoslovak women’s team finally defeated the Soviet team, and Čáslavská won the all-around title, defeating Kuchinskaya, who reportedly stated before the competition, “I will share the medals with Čáslavská!”

Stadión, a Czechoslovak sports magazine, dedicated several pages to the competition. The article’s tone was blunt in places. It criticized the complacency of the Czechoslovak men’s team, as well as the judges during the women’s event finals and Villancher’s interventions in the judging.

Note: Berthe Villancher, the President of the Women’s Technical Committee, was known for her interventions. For example, she intervened during Čáslavská’s beam routine at the 1968 Olympics and during Tourischeva’s beam routine at the 1969 European Championships.

It also provided interesting tidbits of information. For example, there were spies at the competitions in Czechoslovakia before the World Championships; the Czechoslovak pianist may have been the key to victory; and the Czechoslovak gymnasts’ shoes were believed to have magical powers.

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1966 Czechoslovakia MAG Perfect 10 WAG

1966: Čáslavská Scores a 10.0 at the Czechoslovak Championships

With three months to go until the World Championships, the Czechoslovak women’s team looked strong at the national championships. Not only did Čáslavská score a 10.0 on floor, but they had seven gymnasts score a 76.00 or better in the all-around.

On the men’s side, there was much rumination about what went wrong in Tokyo. At the 1962 World Championships, the Czechoslovak men were third. At the 1964 Olympic Games, they dropped to sixth. Sotorník, the head coach of the team, even mentions his team’s work with a psychologist.

Here’s the coverage of the 1966 Czechoslovak Championships from the sports magazine Stadión.

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1963 Czechoslovakia MAG WAG

 1963: The Czechoslovak Championships

Here’s a brief article on the 1963 Czechoslovak Championships, which Šťastný and Čáslavská won. Čáslavská swept the event titles, as well.

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1963 Czechoslovakia MAG

1963: Why was the Czechoslovak men’s program struggling?

The Czechoslovak men’s team used to be the strongest program in the world. The Czech Sokols won the team titles at the 1907, 1911, 1913, 1922, 1926, 1930, and 1938 World Championships. After World War II, Czechoslovakia’s highest finish at the World Championships was third (1958 and 1962).

So, what happened? Why was their program struggling? In 1963, Stadión ran an article that offered several theories on this topic. The main concern was a lack of depth.

This lack of depth was, in part, due to the amount of dedication that gymnastics takes. “Gymnastics needs all of one’s free time. And so the boys leave and are content to perform some kind of handstand or somersault in the swimming pool.”

Another reason was Czechoslovakia’s mandatory military service, which happened at an age when male gymnasts are just starting to gain the strength required for high-level gymnastics. One unit — Dukla in Prague — was good at developing gymnasts while those who go to other military units do not progress. As a result, many male gymnasts’ development fell by the wayside at the age of 19.

In addition to the question of depth, there was a lack of consistency in the training methodologies throughout the various regions. And generally speaking, there seemed to be misguided routine composition among the top Czechoslovak men.

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1962 Czechoslovakia Interviews & Profiles MAG World Championships

1962: A Profile of Přemysl Krbec, the Last Czechoslovak MAG World Champion

At the 1962 World Championships, Přemysl Krbec of Czechoslovakia won the gold medal on vault. This was the last time that a Czechoslovak gymnast was a world champion in men’s artistic gymnastics. Since there hasn’t been much written about Krbec, I translated a profile that was published after the 1962 World Championships in Prague.

Like many gymnasts, gymnastics was not his first love. Even though both his parents were gymnasts, he loved soccer.

Heads-up: Holub, the author of this profile, tended to be a bit fanciful in his profiles of gymnasts.