1974 WAG World Championships

1974: The Women’s All-Around Competition at the World Championships

In 1974, Ludmilla Tourischeva won her second-straight all-around title at the World Championships and proved what some, including head coach Larisa Latynina, believed to be true: Tourischeva would always trump Korbut in the all-around.

One month before the World Championships, the Soviet magazine Yunost published an article about Tourischeva and Korbut. Here’s an excerpt:

“Can Korbut finally win against Tourischeva?” they ask.

My answer is: “No, she can’t.”

On one apparatus – sure she can. On two. On three. But not in the big all-around with twelve apparatus (three times four), where the main title of the all-around champion is at stake.

Latynina once put it well into words: “Korbut will surprise, but Tourischeva will win.”

You have to be Tourischeva — steel in work, deaf to the temptations of the world, unquestioningly submissive to her own will as well as her coach’s. Tourischeva is a stayer, she possesses an ideally patient and stubborn all-around character.

And Olya Korbut is a person-explosion, a person of moods. Imagine a sprinter running ten thousand meters — this is Korbut in the all-around.

Stanislav Tokarev, Yunost, September, No. 9, 1974

That said, Korbut, among others, felt that the judges had crowned Tourischeva as the champion even before the competition in Varna began.

Interestingly, the highest score in the competition did not go to either Tourischeva or Korbut. Instead, it went to Annelore Zinke, who scored a 9.95 on bars. 

Note: Since there were four judges for each event with the high and low scores being dropped, this meant that two judges gave Zinke a 10.0 for her routine. One 10.0 was dropped, and her counting scores were a 9.90 and a 10.0 for a 9.95 average.

Here’s what happened on Friday, October 25 during the women’s all-around final.

February 1-22, 1974. Rostov-On-Don, USSR. Three-time Olympic champion, multiple world and European champion, Soviet gymnast Lyudmilla Tourischeva. The exact date of the photograph is unknown.
Olga Korbut taking part in the World Gymnastic Championships in Varna, Bulgaria. Original Publication: People Disc – HG0074 (Photo by D Deynov/Getty Images)

Reminder: This was the first World Championships with an all-around final. (The Munich Olympics were the first Olympic Games to include an all-around final.)

Reminder #2: In 1973, the Women’s Technical Committee tried to ban Korbut’s skills.

1974 WAG World Championships

1974: The Women’s Team Competition at the World Championships

The 1974 World Championships maintained the status quo. In Munich in 1972, the Soviet team came in first, the East German team in second, and the Hungarian team in third. The same was true in Varna in 1974.

But there were some surprises, primarily from the Romanian team. At the 1972 Olympics, they were sixth, finishing 7.55 points behind the third-place Hungarians. Two years later, they were fourth, finishing only 1.30 points behind the third-place Hungarians. And, as the European gymnastics community knew full well, the Romanians were going to pose a challenge in the future thanks to a young group of rising stars led by Nadia Comăneci. (You may have heard of her.)

Another surprise: Two years after Olga Korbut and Nancy Thies did standing back tucks on beam, the world saw one of the first layout stepouts — as performed by Romania’s Aurelia Dobre (Unfortunately, the news reports did not record the skill, but Hardy Fink got it on video. You can see it below.)

There were also accusations of score-fixing both by the Soviets and the president of the Women’s Technical Committee. (As we’ll see in the post about event finals, Korbut also alleged that the Soviet leadership engaged in behind-the-scenes machinations.) Even the audience was upset about the scoring. After a piked Tsukahara by U.S. gymnast Ann Carr, they protested her 9.4 for roughly several minutes.

Here’s what happened on Monday, October 21 (compulsories/competition 1a), and Wednesday, October 23 (optionals/competition 1b).

Hungary’s team, Source: Képes Sport, October 29, 1974

Note: Quality photos are hard to find for these World Championships
1974 Czechoslovakia WAG

1974: Czechoslovakia’s Plans for Uneven Bars

From 1936 until 1968, the Czechoslovak women’s artistic gymnasts always won at least one medal at the Olympics. In 1972, that streak ended. In 1974, the leadership of the Czechoslovak women’s team was wondering how to return to its golden age. According to the article below, one potential solution was to improve on uneven bars. In particular, they were hoping to find something unique and extraordinary on the apparatus — similar to what Korbut brought to bars in 1972.

Interestingly, the article points out that Korbut was not the only gymnast to train the salto release on bars. Czechoslovak gymnast Bohumila Římnáčová had trained the same skill but couldn’t master it. 

One final tidbit: It should be noted that the article leaves out an important detail in its historiography. At the 1934 World Championships, teams had a choice of uneven bars or parallel bars. The Czechoslovak team was the only team to choose uneven bars. In effect, it was the Czechoslovak women’s team that introduced uneven bars to FIG competitions.

1973 Czechoslovakia WAG

1973: Stodůlková’s Double Back on Floor

At the inaugural Moscow News competition in 1974, Yelena Abramova became the first woman to do a double back at a large international competition. (You can see a video here.) But she was not the first gymnast to perform the skill.

In 1973, Renata Stodůlková made headlines when she performed the skill at Czechoslovakia’s trials for the European Championships, and though Stodůlková did not compete at the 1973 European Championships, her double back on floor was a big topic of conversation in London that year.

What follows is a translation of the newspaper article about Stodůlková’s double back.

Renata Stodůlková, 1971 – Source: Vlasta, No. 38, 1971
Adolfína Tkačíková-Tačová and Renata Stodůlková, 1967 – Source: Vlasta, No. 35, 1967

Note: If you’re a long-time gymnastics fan, you may have heard of Stodůlková’s double back, but the details have largely been forgotten over the years.

It’s important to recognize moments like this in gymnastics history because progress in women’s artistic gymnastics is often seen through a Soviet lens. The contributions of gymnasts from other countries are often overlooked, and, as I mentioned above, Stodůlková’s double back did capture the attention of the European gymnastics community in 1973 — even if she performed the skill only domestically.

1974 Interviews & Profiles USSR WAG

1974: Gymnastics without Kuchinskaya but with Tourischeva and Korbut

In 1970, Stanislav Tokarev published an article titled “Gymnastics without Natasha?…” in the magazine Yunost. In it, he announced Natalia (Natasha) Kuchinskaya’s retirement from the sport and observed that the careers of gymnastics stars were much shorter. In addition, he praised the next generation of gymnasts, including Nina Dronova, whom he nicknamed “The Mozart of Gymnastics.”

Four years later, Tokarev wrote a follow-up article in which he opines on several burning questions: Why didn’t Nina Dronova live up to her potential? How do you become Olga Korbut? Why can’t Olga Korbut beat Ludmila Tourischeva in the all-around? What is it like for the Soviet Union to have such deep wells of talent? 

Below, you’ll find a translation of the article “Without Natasha, but with Lyuda and Olya.” It was published in the September 1974 issue of Yunost  — right before the 1974 World Championships in Varna.

Ludmila Tourischeva and Olga Korbut at a competition between Canada, West Germany, and the Soviet Union in 1972
1974 Asian Games MAG WAG

1974: The Men’s and Women’s Competitions at the Asian Games

Gymnastics was new to the Asian Games in 1974, and there were a few surprises.

First, China was present. Though China was competing in more dual meets in countries like Romania and the United States, China was not part of the FIG or the IOC at the time due to the organizations’ recognition of Taiwan. The organizers of the Asian Games broke ranks by inviting China and revoking Taiwan’s membership. This was a big deal at the time. (More on that below.)

Second, China had quite the medal haul. On the women’s side, Chinese gymnasts swept the all-around podium, and on the men’s side, China won the men’s team title, beating Japan. The competition was held just weeks before the World Championships in Varna — with the Asian Games happening in early September and the World Championships in late October. As a result, Japan did not send its top gymnasts to the Asian Games, and to make matters worse, one of Japan’s gymnasts tore his Achilles during the first event.

As you’ll see below, Arthur Gander, the president of the FIG, took an essentialist position and attributed China’s success to their bodies, stating, “A Chinese is a very well-formed human being, better formed than a Japanese, for instance.” (Because all Chinese people have the same body?)

Finally — and maybe this is less of a surprise — there was reportedly tension between the North and South Korean delegations.

Jiang Shaoyi
1974 Interviews & Profiles MAG Riga International WAG

1974: Interviews with Natalia Kuchinskaya and Klaus Köste in Riga

The Latvian newspaper Sports did interviews with Natalia Kuchinskaya and Klaus Köste at the 1974 edition of the Riga International. At the time, Kuchinskaya, one of the stars of the 1966 World Championships and 1968 Olympic Games, was working in Ukraine as a choreographer. Klaus Köste, the 1972 Olympic champion on vault, had retired from the sport and then came back.

Below, you can find translations of their interviews. You can find a report on the 1974 competition in Riga here.

1974 MAG Riga International WAG

1974: Gorbik and Marchenko Win the Riga International

Days after the 1974 edition of Moscow News, gymnasts traveled to Latvia for the 1974 Riga International. By holding these competitions in succession, delegations could get more for their money. Instead of flying to the Soviet Union for one meet, they could now fly to the Soviet Union for two meets:

Vice President of the International Gymnastics Federation and Olympic champion, Yuri Titov, said that holding two such large competitions one right after another is tremendously beneficial. Athletes, who have traveled a long way to our country, are happy to demonstrate their skills multiple times. And many experts think that gymnasts will exhibit emotionally charged performance full of new technical components in Riga.

Sports, Latvjijas PSR Sporta biedribu izdevums, Nr. 49, March 26, 1974

Starptautiskās vingrošanas federācijas viceprezidents olimpiskais čempions Jurijs Titovs teica, ka ir ļoti lietderīgi rīkot divas tik plašas sacensības pēc kārtas. Sportisti, kuri mērojuši tālu ceļu uz mūsu zemi, savu meistarību labprāt vēlas demonstrēt vairākkārt. Un daudzi speciālisti uzskata, ka tieši Rīgā vingrotāji rādīs emocionālas un jauniem tehniskiem elementiem bagātas kompozīcijas.

Gymnasts often debuted new skills in Riga. In 1972, Tsukahara Mitsuo did a full-twisting double back off high bar, and Beate Gehrke did one of the first Tsukaharas in women’s artistic gymnastics. In 1973, Nikolai Andrianov did a double pike on floor. (At the European Championships that year, he did a full-twisting double tuck off rings.) Then, one year later, in 1974, Vladimir Marchenko did one of the first full-twisting double backs on floor at a large international competition. (Video below.)

By all accounts, the women’s all-around in 1974 was a nail-biting competition between Lidia Gorbik and Nellie Kim. Kim needed a 9.6 during the final rotation to win. She got a 9.5.

Here’s what else happened in Riga in 1974.

1976 Summer Olympic Games, Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images, VLADIMIR MARCHENKO (USSR), RINGS
1974 MAG Moscow News WAG

1974: Grozdova and Klimenko Win the Inaugural Moscow News Competition

Moscow News, Russia’s oldest English-language newspaper, held its first gymnastics competition in 1974. Over the years, legends like Nellie Kim, Yelena Shushunova, Yelena Mukhina, Natalia Yurchenko, Svetlana Boginskaya, Bogdan Makuts, Dmitri Bilozerchev, Valeri Liukin, to name a few, won the all-around title at this competition.

In 1974, the competition drew several top 1972 Olympians, including gold medalists Elvira Saadi (URS), Viktor Klimenko (URS), Klaus Köste (GDR), Tsukahara Mitsuo (JPN), and Kenmotsu Eizo (JPN).

From a historical perspective, the 1974 competition is important because Yelena Abramova (URS) landed the first double back on women’s floor at a large international competition. As Sovetsky Sport reported, “It was not perfect though.”

Here’s what was reported about the event at that time.

1973 European Championships WAG

1973: Tourischeva Sweeps the Women’s European Championships

Only four gymnasts have swept the medals at the European Championships: Latynina in 1957, Čáslavská in 1965 and 1967, Tourischeva in 1973, and Boginskaya in 1990. All legends in their own right. And, as we’ll see below, Tourischeva won the floor title even with a fall during finals.

Looking back on this competition, vault was one of the more interesting events because much innovation was happening. Korbut introduced a full twist onto the horse. (Unfortunately, she was too injured to compete in finals and scratched after trying to sprint down the runway.)

Additionally, Tsukaharas, the vault that Tsukahara Mitsuo popularized in 1970, were becoming popular in women’s gymnastics. While others had competed the skill previously, Tourischeva, the reigning World and Olympic all-around champion, was now doing it, helping the vault seem less “masculine,” as one newspaper described it during the 1973 University Games.

Fun Trivia Fact: While the media coverage focused on Tourischeva and Korbut, neither gymnast received the highest score during the competition. Angelika Hellmann of East Germany did — with a 9.7 during the uneven bars finals.

So, with no further ado, here’s what happened at the 1973 European Championships in London.

Olga Korbut and Ludmila Tourischeva take a walk around Wembley Stadium, London, 21st October 1973.