Just days before the 1971 European Championships, Nedelia, a weekly illustrated newspaper, ran an interview with Tamara Lazakovich and Ludmilla Tourischeva. (By the way, Lazakovich quit gymnastics, and the coach had to convince her to come back.)
In the same issue, another article looked at the state of Soviet gymnastics, comparing Lazakovich’s and Tourischeva’s distinct styles: “Wave and stone, poetry and prose, ice and fire — Tourischeva and Lazakovich.”
In addition, the article lamented that 13-year-old Nina Dronova could not participate in the European Championships due to her age, and it worried that she might tire of gymnastics before she had her chance to shine on the international stage.
Reminder: At the 1970 FIG Congress, the women’s artistic gymnastics delegates voted to lower the competitive age to 14.
What follows is a translation of the article on the state of Soviet gymnastics, as well as the interview with Lazakovich and Tourischeva (Nedelia, October 11, 1971).
In 1971, Ilona Békési was a rising star in the European gymnastics community, and at the 1971 Hungarian Masters Championships, she won gold in every event. One year later, she would lead the Hungarian women’s team to a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.
Note: Békési and the Hungarian women often get overlooked in English-language histories of gymnastics. So, this is the first of many posts that will provide a glimpse into Hungarian gymnastics in the early 1970s.
In a competition advertised as “Japan vs. Europe” in Bern, Switzerland, the Japanese men and women were supposed to compete against Europe’s best gymnasts. In the end, the marketing overpromised. Only some of the top European gymnasts competed. Notably absent were the Soviets and East Germans.
Nevertheless, there was some excitement. On the men’s side, Kato Sawao, the 1968 all-around gold medalist, returned to competition after an Achilles tear. On the women’s side, Ilona Békési had a breakout performance, even after the uneven bars collapsed literally on top of her.
Reminder: This naming convention would be quite common at competitions like “The USSR vs. the World.”
In 1969, the United States Gymnastics Federation invited the Soviet Union to its World Cup, but the Soviet Union did not attend. In 1971, the winds changed, and the Soviet Union traveled to the U.S. for dual meets at Penn State and Temple University.
What follows are remarks on the competition at Penn State (February 5 and 6, 1971).
Note: It should be noted that this gymnastics competition was not the first sporting event between the two countries during the Cold War. In 1962, for example, there was a U.S. vs. USSR track and field dual meet.
The 1970 World Championships are often overshadowed by Čáslavská and Kuchinskaya’s rivalry in 1968 and by Korbut’s pyrotechnics in 1972. But the competition in Ljubljana was exciting in its own right.
First, there was the changing of the guard. Czechoslovakia was once the Soviet Union’s biggest rival. But East Germany assumed that position in 1970, and at one point in the competition, it seemed like East Germany might win team gold.
Second, the all-around competition was thrilling. The title was Karin Janz’s to lose, and well, unfortunately, she ended up losing it during the final rotation.
In 1970, the Women’s Technical Committee published a new version of the Code of Points. Many of the rules had already been in place in the 1968 Code of Points (e.g. only four judges per apparatus instead of the previous norm of five judges per apparatus).
The major change in the English version was the inclusion of stick figure drawings. Let’s take a look at the Code.
In 1968, Romania didn’t send any gymnasts to the Olympic Games ostensibly out of fear of poor performance. In a column for the Romanian newspaper Sportul, Elena Leușteanu, a three-time Olympic bronze medalist in gymnastics, explained that the decision was both a “discreet gesture” and a “diplomatic tactic.”
Our non-participation in gymnastics was actually a discreet gesture and a diplomatic tactic. Discreet gesture — because, by not participating, we were acknowledging, in a way, that the value of our opponents is higher than ours and would have not suited us to make it official, especially in a competition in which a kind of opinion is developed that can be harmful for us for at least two years, if not four years, before the next Olympic competition. Diplomatic tactic — because although we have genuine assets, recognized even at the “Olympic Hope Competition,” their maturation is planned for the next 3-4 years. I think this is the reason that would suit us best and explain our intention to return to the arena of major competitions only when we have a team that can and knows how to keep and conquer new positions aimed at raising the prestige of our gymnastics.
Sportul, March 7, 1969
Neprezentarea noastră la gimnastică a fost de fapt un gest discret și o tactică diplomatică. Gest discret — pentru că prin neparticipare recunoșteam, într-un fel, că valoarea adversarilor este mai bună decît a noastră și acest lucru nu ne-ar fi convenit să-l oficializăm mai ales într-o competiție în care se formează un fel de opinie care ne poate fi dăunătoare cel puțin doi ani înainte, dacă nu patru ani, pînă la viitoarea întrecere olimpică, tactică diplomatică , pentru că deși avem valori autentice, recunoscute chiar la „Concursul speranțelor olimpice“, maturizarea lor este planificată în următorii 3—4 ani. Acesta cred că este motivul care ne-ar prinde cel mai bine și explica de fapt intenția de a reveni în arena marilor concursuri numai atunci cînd vom avea o echipă care să poată și să știe a păstra și cuceri noi poziții menite să ridice prestigiul gimnasticii noastre.
At the 1969 European Championships, the Romanian gymnasts did, in fact, conquer “new positions” — at least compared to recent history. Rodica Apăteanu finished eighth, and Felicia Dornea, the youngest competitor in the competition, finished twelfth. Their finishes were a marked improvement over the 1967 Europeans, where the top Romanian gymnast — Elena Ceampelea — finished seventeenth.
The Romanian press struck an optimistic note after the 1969 Women’s European Championships, calling the gymnasts’ performances a “good omen” for the future. At the same time, there was a bit of blunt criticism, as we will see in the column below.
So what? Why does this matter? It’s important to take the temperature in 1969 so that we can track the rise of Romanian women’s gymnastics from no participation in 1968 to team silver in 1976.