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.
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.
At the Olympic Games prior to 1928, the men competed in track and field events, rope climbing, or even an obstacle course (1920).
The Amsterdam Olympics marked a turning point in men’s gymnastics. For the first time, the athletes competed only on gymnastics apparatus at the Olympic Games. No rope climb. No sprints. No high jump. Just apparatus gymnastics.
However, the Olympic program still hadn’t taken its modern form. In 1928, male gymnasts didn’t perform individual floor routines. They did, however, perform on the floor as an ensemble, and, as we’ll discuss in the next post, the Yugoslav team had a remarkable ensemble routine.
Whereas men competed in gymnastics at the very first Olympic Games in 1896, women had to wait until the 1928 Games in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the Official Report provides little commentary on the women’s competition — save for the results, the names of the athletes, and a photo of the French team climbing the double ropes.
But there were newspaper accounts of the events.
In this post, we’ll dive a bit deeper and look at two perspectives: that of the Dutch and that of the French. (The former was written for a general audience, while the latter was written for the gymnastics nerds.)
As we’ll see, there were some glaring issues that needed to be addressed in women’s gymnastics.
Over the years, there have been many versions of the Olympic Games. One version was the International Workers’ Olympiads, which positioned itself in opposition to the “bourgeois” Olympics.
(For a list of Olympics that happened before the 1896 Olympics in Athens, check out this post.)
As I stated in my previous post, the International Workers’ Olympiads gave Swiss women the opportunity to compete internationally at a time when the FIG didn’t allow women to compete. (At the Olympic level, women first competed in gymnastics at the 1928 Olympics.)
So, let’s take a look at what happened at the First International Workers’ Olympiads in 1925.
Nowadays, we see the Olympic Games as the pinnacle of sports, and we have romanticized the first modern Olympics in Athens.
But, to understand the gymnastics competition at the 1896 Olympic Games, we need to set aside those notions.
By and large, the gymnastics community didn’t see the first Olympic Games as a glorious revival of an ancient tradition. In fact, most of the European gymnastics federations turned down their invitations.
In 1948, the Soviet Union was invited to the Olympics, but they chose not to send any athletes. That same year, the Soviet Union attempted to join the FIG, and it was quite the fiasco.
In this post, we’ll take a look at a news report from the 1948 FIG Congress. In addition, we’ll look at a Swiss report on the Soviet appearance at the 1948 Sokol Fest, as well as what was being written about gymnastics in the Soviet press at the time.
Let’s jump in…
Note: The Soviet Union had participated in international gymnastics competitions before their attempt to join the FIG in 1948, but those competitions were not FIG events. For example, they participated in the 1937 Workers’ Summer Olympiad in Antwerp, where the Soviet teams finished first.
The men’s gymnastics competition at the 1948 Olympics was a bit chaotic, but by all accounts, it was an exciting competition between the Swiss and the Finnish teams. (Though, there were a fair amount of complaints about the judging.)
At the time of this writing, I have not found any extant competition footage. But the newspaper accounts paint a fairly clear picture of the competition and its controversies.