1973 FIG Congress USSR WAG

1973: The Quixotic Quest to Ban Korbut’s Skills

In 1973, newspapers around the globe printed some version of this headline: “Olga ‘May Say Goodbye Forever.’”

The articles typically went on to explain that Olga Korbut, the fan favorite of the Munich Games, might end her gymnastics career because the FIG had decided that her skills were too dangerous.

Not surprisingly, the newspapers got some of the details wrong. One Japanese newspaper wrote, “The 89-pound Olympic gold medalist has been banned from performing a breathtaking double backward somersault on the balance beam” (The Daily Yomiuri, July 18, 1973).

To be clear, the FIG did not ban a double back on the beam, nor did Korbut perform a double back on the beam. But in early 1973, the Women’s Technical Committee (WTC) was set to ban two skills that Korbut popularized: the standing back tuck on beam, as well as dismounting the bars by pushing off with one’s feet.

Then, over the course of the year, the members of the WTC slowly walked back their decision.

So, here’s a brief history of the Women’s Technical Committee’s decisions in 1973, as well as a translation of Korbut’s interview that sent shockwaves around the globe.

Bildnummer: 03508694 Datum: 28.08.1972 Copyright: imago/Werner Schulze Olga Korbut (UdSSR) – Stufenbarren; quer Olympische Spiele 1972 Sommerspiele Kunstturnen Geräteturnen Vneg Vsw München Turnen OS Sommer Damen Einzel Einzelbild Aktion Personen Kurios

Reminder: Korbut was not the only gymnast to do a standing back tuck on beam at the 1972 Olympics. Nancy Thies (USA) also did one in Munich. Nor was she the only gymnast to dismount the uneven bars using her feet. Her teammate Bogdanova was doing a double-twisting version of Korbut’s dismount. Korbut was the most famous gymnast to perform those skills and thus became a lightning rod for the issue.

Note: The articles below will mention Korbut’s coach. Korbut has alleged that Knysh sexually assaulted her. Knysh has denied the allegations.

1973 Interviews & Profiles MAG USSR

1973: A Profile of Viktor Klimenko – “Catching up and Overtaking”

In July of 1973, after Viktor Klimenko won his second European all-around title, Stadión, a weekly Czechoslovak sports magazine, published a profile on him. It offers details about his early years in the sport, his rivalries within the Soviet team, his coaching changes, his recovery from an Achilles tear that occurred during the 1971 European Championships, and more.


Note: You can read a much shorter profile of the Klimenko brothers from 1972 here.

1972 1973 MAG Romania USSR WAG

1972/3: Comăneci Wins the All-Around in Dual Meets with the USSR

In 1972 and 1973, the Romania juniors competed against the Soviet juniors in dual meets. In both years, Comăneci won the all-around.

In other words, long before the Montreal Olympics, the Soviets knew they would be up against stiff competition. In fact, Larisa Latynina, the head coach of the Soviet team, would refer to Comăneci as the “Romanian Korbut” after the 1973 Friendship Cup.

Here are the Romanian news reports on the dual meets. Plus, there’s an early profile of Comăneci included at the end.

Reminder: In 1972, the Soviet newspapers didn’t know how to spell Comăneci’s surname.

Sportul, April 22, 1973

1972: Bichukina First, Kim Second at the Soviet National Youth Championships

Months after Olga Korbut captivated the world’s attention in Munich, there was a national youth championship in Zaporizhzhia, and a familiar name — Nellie Kim — took second behind Raisa Bichukina, a much less familiar name to today’s gymnastics fans. (Kim was leading after the preliminary competitions.)

The path from junior elite to senior elite is never easy. Of the top juniors in 1972, only Kim and Grozdova would make the 1976 Olympic team. On the men’s side, several of the top juniors in 1972 would go on to have successful senior careers, including Marchenko, Markelov, and Dityatin.

What fascinates me about this event is the coverage. It raises hard questions: Was the nation in too much of a hurry to have young gymnasts competing on a major stage? Are they forcing gymnasts to compete too much? At the same time, the articles marvel at the gymnasts’ talent. The next generation of women’s artistic gymnasts was performing the most difficult skills in the world, including the same vault that Nikolai Andrianov competed in Munich.

Datum: 25.07.1980 Copyright: imago/Sven Simon Nelli Kim (USSR)
1972 Books MAG Olympics USSR

1972: Mikhail Voronin on His Final Olympics

In Voronin’s 1976 autobiography titled Number One (Первый номер), he reflects on his final Olympic Games. By his standards, he struggled during the Soviet competitions prior to the Olympics, and while in Munich, he injured his ankle. Arthur Gander refused to let him pull out of the all-around final, so he competed after receiving an injection that made him black out. (Note: Korbut also got an injection before the all-around final that caused her legs to go numb.) 

In the end, the Soviet men’s team won two golds, three silvers, and one bronze. They had made progress in the two years between the Ljubljana World Championships and the Munich Olympics. But in the end, Voronin recognized that they were unable to put together a team that could match Japan’s team.

Here’s what else he said about Munich… 

Datum: 07.05.1972 Athlete: Mikhail Voronin, Copyright: imago/Sven Simon, Note: This photo is not from the Olympics.

Note: Chapters of Voronin’s book were translated into Estonian for the newspaper Spordileht, and I have translated the text from Estonian into English. The following excerpts come from the February 8, 1978, February 10, 1978, and February 13, 1978 issues of Spordileht.

1972 MAG Olympics USSR

1972: Sovetsky Sport’s Coverage of the Men’s Event Finals

In 1972, there were no Soviet men’s artistic gymnasts on the all-around podium. Afterward, the Soviet press noted that the fight was not over. The Soviet gymnasts could still take home gold during the event finals, and indeed, they did. Nikolai Andrianov and Viktor Klimenko became Olympic champions on floor and pommel horse, respectively.

Here’s what the main Soviet sports newspaper wrote about the men’s artistic event finals. Though the Soviet and Japanese gymnasts were rivals, the press was quite complimentary towards the Japanese gymnasts, especially Tsukahara’s high bar routine.

MUNICH, WEST GERMANY – SEPTEMBER 01: Viktor Klimenko of the Soviet Union competes in the Pommel Horse of the Artistic Gymnastics Men’s Apparatus final during the Munich Olympic Games at the Sporthalle on September 1, 1972 in Munich, West Germany. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
1972 Olympics USSR WAG

1972: Sovetsky Sport’s Coverage of the Women’s Event Finals

Only two countries medaled in the women’s event finals: the Soviet Union and East Germany. Sovetsky Sport concluded that “the Soviet and German sportswomen now fully dominate in women’s gymnastics and determine the course of its development.”

Given the newspaper’s emphasis on the friendliness between the gymnasts of both countries, it had to tread lightly when discussing the uneven bars final. Without saying that Olga Korbut should have won the title, it implied as much. But it was quick to point out that the fault was with the FIG and the judges.

Here’s what Sovetsky Sport wrote about the 1972 event finals.

Olga Korbut (USSR), Munich 1972
1972 MAG Olympics USSR

1972: Sovetsky Sport’s Coverage of the Men’s All-Around in Munich

Soviet gymnasts first competed at the Olympics in 1952, and from 1952 through 1968, there was always a Soviet gymnast on the men’s all-around podium at the Olympics. Then, 1972 happened, and there were no Soviet all-around medalists in men’s artistic gymnastics.

Here’s what Sovetsky Sport, the primary sports newspaper of the Soviet Union, wrote.

Copyright: imago/Werner Schulze, Nikolai Andrianov (UdSSR)
1972 Olympics USSR WAG

1972: Sovetsky Sport’s Coverage of the Women’s All-Around Final

For the Soviet team, the 1972 all-around final was a whirlwind. There were six Soviet gymnasts in the final and only one Soviet coach on the floor. Polina Astakhova had to run from apparatus to apparatus to spot, adjust equipment, encourage, and comfort.

Sovetsky Sport captured the excitement of the competition by giving a rotation-by-rotation analysis. In the end, the newspaper of record praised the friendship between the Soviet and East German gymnasts: “They were sitting side by side — the gymnasts from the USSR and the GDR. It was their evening, their celebration.”

Copyright: imago/Colorsport Gymnastics – 1972 Munich Olympics – Women’s Individual All-Around The gold medal winner, USSR’s Ludmilla Tourischeva
1972 MAG Olympics USSR

1972: Sovetsky Sport’s Coverage of the Soviet Men’s Fourth-Straight Silver

What did the Soviet press think about the Soviet men’s team winning silver for the fourth-straight Olympics?

Here’s what Sovetsky Sport, the primary sports newspaper of the Soviet Union, wrote.

Olympische Spiele München 1972. Turnen: Siegerehrung Mannschaftsmehrkampf: Japan Gold, UdSSR Silber und DDR Bronze