1970 1971 Age FIG Congress WAG

1970: Setting the Age Limit for WAG at 14

In 1970, the Women’s Technical Committee set the competitive age limit at 14. One year later, they issued an explanation of sorts. It included a warning to members, recognizing that abusive methods were leaving child gymnasts damaged. By setting the age limit at 14, their hope was to see more “mature work” that displayed a “woman’s charm.”

Here’s what was recorded in the 1971 FIG bulletins about the question of age in women’s artistic gymnastics.

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 MAG Riga International WAG

1973: Schegolkova and Andrianov Win the Riga International

The Riga International was one of the first major international competitions in 1973. Olympic gold medalists Nikolai Andrianov, Klaus Köste, and Elvira Saadi competed, but it wasn’t a well-attended event:

The attendance was very light for both men’s and women’s events with some increase during the finals.

Gymnast, June/July 1973

Riga was a place where gymnasts often debuted new skills. In 1972, Tsukahara did his full-twisting double back off high bar, and Gehrke became one of the first women to do a Tsukahara on vault. In 1973, Andrianov did one of the first double pikes on floor.

Historical context: At the 1962 World Championships, Hristov of Bulgaria attempted one of the first double backs at a major international competition. (He face-planted it.) Eleven years later, the world finally saw one of the first double pikes.

Source: Padomju Jaunatne, Nr. 70, April 10, 1973
1970 Universiade WAG

1970: The Women’s Competition at the University Games

After boycotting the 1967 Universiade, the Eastern Bloc returned in 1970, and the Soviets swept the podium, winning team gold and the top three places in the individual all-around. Larisa Petrik, who had tied Čáslavská for gold on floor at the 1968 Olympics, won the all-around. And, as always, the Soviet gymnasts were idealized for the quality and fluidity of their movements on floor.

But Soviet gymnasts weren’t the only ones who were pushing the envelope at the Universiade in Turin. The Japanese gymnasts were performing twisting vaults, which would become more common at the 1972 Olympics. On beam, the Hungarian gymnasts took risks by performing aerial cartwheels. (To be sure, Korbut had started performing her standing back tuck on beam at smaller competitions in 1969, but no-handed flight elements like saltos and aerials were uncommon at the time. )

What follows are the results, commentary about the competition, and an interview with Tatiana Schegolkova.

Source: Universiade Torino ’70: Giochi mondiali della FISU
1967 Universiade WAG

1967: The Women’s Competition at the University Games

In 1963 and 1965, the Hungarian team won the team titles at the University Games. They were unable to defend their title because Hungary boycotted the competition in support of North Korea:

The Tokyo 1967 Summer Universiade certainly had its challenges even before the competition started, with the Eastern bloc nations such as the Soviet Union, East Germany, North Korea, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, and Cuba boycotting the Games because of the political dynamics at the time. The first to boycott was North Korea, who demanded that it be referred to as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea during the Universiade, a request that was denied. The countries from the East then rallied around their communist ally and also pulled out.

Source:  Spotlight: Remembering the Tokyo 1967 Summer Universiade

Reminder: At other competitions, there was controversy over referring to the German Democratic Republic as East Germany.

As a result, the 1967 University Games were a rather small competition that ended with Japan winning easily over the United States, and Matsuhisa Miyuki winning the all-around comfortably. (Yes, there was a time when the U.S. women sent teams to the University Games.)

Here are the results, as well as a translation of Japan’s Official Report on the 1967 University Games.

Caption: Matsuhisa Miyuki, winner of the women’s individual all-around, with her excellent form on floor exercise (left) and balance beam (right). (女子個人総合で優勝した松久ミユキ選手の床運動 (左)と平均台 (右)のみごとなフォーム)

Source: Japan’s Official Report on the 1967 University Games
1965 Universiade WAG

1965: The Women’s Competition at the University Games

At the 1963 Universiade, Hungary upset the Soviet team, and Larisa Latynina (URS) had to share the all-around gold with Katalin Makray (HUN). Two years later, in Budapest, the Hungarian team once again found itself on top of the podium, and Makray won another medal in the all-around — this time, a bronze. Her teammate Anikó Ducza stood on top of the podium, defeating Galina Burucheva of the Soviet Union by 0.10.

What follows are the results, as well as coverage from the time.

Top right: Katalin Makray; Center: Shibuya Taki and Furuyama Yasuko; Bottom: Galina Burucheva. Source: Képes Sport, August 31, 1965
1963 MAG Universiade WAG

1963: The Men’s and Women’s Competitions at the University Games

The results of the gymnastics competition at the 1963 University Games in Porto Alegre, Brazil, were quite unexpected. 

At the 1962 World Championships, Yuri Titov and Larisa Latynina won the all-around titles. One year later, at the Universiade in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Titov finished off the podium, and the Japanese men swept the top three places in the all-around. On the women’s side, Latynina, who had won every World and Olympic all-around title since 1956, had to share first place with Hungary’s Katalin Makray. On top of that, Hungary beat the Soviet Union, which had won team gold at every World Championships or Olympic Games since 1952.

Granted, there were some fundamental differences between the University Games and other major competitions. No compulsory routines, for example. Only four gymnasts per team. No event finals. Nevertheless, the results were surprising.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to track down information about this competition. So, this post relies on the book Unversíade 1963: História e resultados dos Jogos Mundiais Universitários de Porto Alegre by Rodrigo Koch.

Photo: Katalin Makray, Népszava, Sept. 4, 1963
1973 Interviews & Profiles Romania WAG

1973: An Early Interview with Béla Károlyi

In 1973, one of the first profiles of the Károlyis was printed. It wasn’t published in the main sports newspaper in Romania, Sportul. Rather, it was published in A Hét, a Hungarian-language newspaper out of Bucharest. (Both Károlyis are ethnic Hungarians.)

The profile in A Hét calls the couple “heroes” and includes the basic contours of the Károlyis’ backstory, which differ from those found in a profile of Comăneci published weeks earlier in Sportul. In that profile, Károlyi suggests that he discovered Comăneci on a playground, a myth that has been repeated for decades. But here, in this Hungarian-language interview, the writer makes it clear that the Károlyis inherited already established groups of gymnasts when they moved to Oneşti. Though, Comăneci’s first coach, Marcel Duncan, is never mentioned by name.

The profile of Károlyi in A Hét was printed after Comăneci’s early success in 1973 — after she had won all the golds at the 1973 Romanian International as well as the all-around during a dual meet with the Soviets. And according to Károlyi, the best was yet to come. In fact, he insinuated that Comăneci might become the first woman to compete a triple twist. (Japan’s Kenmotsu had attempted the skill at the 1970 World Championships and 1972 Olympics.)

A short sidenote: In this article, we find out an interesting tidbit: Márta Károlyi’s first name in Hungarian is reportedly Gyöngyi. (Erőss is her maiden name.) It was not uncommon for Hungarians to use alternate given names. For example, Valerie Nagy, a long-time member of the Women’s Technical Committee, did not use her Hungarian given name (Jenőné) outside of Hungary.

1972 1973 Interviews & Profiles Romania WAG

1972/3: Early Interviews with Nadia Comăneci

Long before the 1976 Olympics, the Romanian press — in both Romanian and Hungarian — started to print interviews with and profiles of Nadia Comăneci. 

Below, you’ll find translations of a small collection of interviews and profiles from 1972 and 1973. Each one is interesting in its own right. For example, you can find an early comparison with Olga Korbut — something that would continue to crop up in the press for years after. In that same article, the author questions if too much was expected of the prodigy at too young of an age — an ongoing question in the sport of gymnastics. There’s even an article titled, “We should not expect everything only from Nadia Comăneci.”

All in all, the articles portray Comăneci as a wunderkind, whose skill is routinely described in supernatural, if not religious, terms, with the word “miracle” being routinely employed to describe her accomplishments.

Sportul, June 15, 1972

As you’ll see in the first profile printed about Comăneci, the Romanian press erased her first coach, Marcel Duncan, from Comăneci’s story right from the start.
1973 Friendship Cup MAG WAG

1973: Comăneci Wins the All-Around at the Friendship Cup

In 1973, at the Friendship Cup, Europe started to acknowledge Comăneci’s greatness. Larisa Latynina, the head coach of the Soviet team, called her the “Romanian Korbut,” and the East German newspaper asked, “Did Gera see the Olympic gymnastics champion of Montreal?”

At this competition, Comăneci competed a Tsukahara on vault, resulting in cheers from the crowd and a gold medal on the apparatus. It was not the first Tsukahara done by a woman on vault. (Beate Gehrke had competed one at the Riga International in 1972.) But it was still extremely rare. (Both Tourischeva and Grigoraş would perform a Tsukahara a few months later at the 1973 European Championships.)

What follows are East German and Romanian accounts of the competition.