1964 Age USSR WAG

1964: Petrik Defeats Latynina at the Soviet Championships

From 1956 until 1962, Larisa Latynina seemed unstoppable. She won the all-around at every major gymnastics competition: the 1956 Olympics, the 1957 Europeans, the 1958 World Championships, the 1959 Europeans, the 1960 Olympics, the 1961 Europeans, and the 1962 World Championships. (The Soviet Union did not participate in the 1963 Europeans.)

But her luck changed in 1964 when Věra Čáslavská won the all-around gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, and Latynina had to settle for silver.

After the Olympics, just a few days shy of her 30th birthday, Latynina had to settle for silver once again at the USSR Championships. This time, she lost to 15-year-old Larisa Petrik, a gymnast half her age.

This was a watershed moment in the history of women’s gymnastics — not simply because it marked the beginning of the end of Latynina’s dominance but also because it marked a shift in women’s gymnastics toward younger gymnasts. 

While there had been teenagers at major international competitions after World War II — 16-year-old Čáslavská, for example, became a crowd favorite when she won team silver at the 1958 World Championships — Petrik’s victory was different. The Soviet Union was the indisputable leader in women’s gymnastics, and for over a decade, their teams had relied primarily on adult women. Then, in 1964, a teenager became the best gymnast in the country and was victorious over someone who had seemed unbeatable internationally for years.

Note: From 1956 until 1962, there were several domestic competitions that Latynina did not win, including the USSR Championships. But this was the first time that she lost to a gymnast half her age.

The news of Petrik’s win made headlines in many of the Soviet Union’s prominent newspapers. In this post, we’ll look at some of those news accounts from December 1964.

Note: For men’s gymnastics fans, don’t worry; the news articles do touch upon the men’s competition, as well.


1963: A Profile of Latynina: “Isn’t everything we do personal life?”

In 1963, the Estonian newspaper Spordileht (Sports Magazine) printed a profile of Larisa Latynina. It portrayed Latynina as a well-rounded, caring individual, who fulfilled her responsibilities not just to her sport but also to her daughter, her community, and her country.

When the article was published, Latynina was the reigning World and Olympic all-around champion. On top of her training, she stayed up late answering her fans’ letters (and writing to some coaches with unsolicited advice). Beyond that, she was a “people’s deputy,” an elected position responsible for expressing and defending the public’s interests. (The position still exists in modern-day Ukraine.)

In a way, the article presented a 1960s Soviet version of the “You can have it all” narrative.

Note: Latynina was not the reigning European all-around champion when this article was published. The Soviet Union and other socialist countries refused to attend the 1963 European Championships in France because the East German gymnasts did not receive entry visas.

Larisa Latynina, 1960, Rome Olympics
1971 European Championships WAG

1971: Co-Champions at the Women’s European Championships

A peculiar situation arose at the 1971 European Championships in Minsk. Two gymnasts tied for the all-around title, but there was only one cup. Though the organizers did not break the tie for first place, they had to decide who should take home the European cup.

Let’s take a look at what happened in Minsk on Saturday, October 16, and Sunday, October 17.

Reminder: The men’s European Championships were much earlier in the year, in May.

The arena in Minsk
1971 European Championships Interviews & Profiles USSR WAG

1971: An Interview with Lazakovich and Tourischeva before the European Championships

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).

Ludmilla Tourischeva, 1970 World Championships
1971 Hungary MAG WAG

1971: Ilona Békési Wins Every Event at Hungarian Nationals

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.

Datum: 31.08.1972 Copyright: imago/Pressefoto Baumann Ilona Bekesi (Ungarn);
1971 Japan MAG WAG

1971: The “Japan vs. Europe” Competition

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.”

Hirashima Eiko (Japan)

1971: The USSR vs. the USA

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).

Left to Right: Sikharulidze, Voronina, Tourischeva
Source: Madamoiselle Gymnast, March/April 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. In 1961, Soviet gymnasts toured the United States, and U.S. gymnasts competed in the Soviet Union.

1970 WAG World Championships

1970: The Women’s Competition at the World Championships

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.

Let’s take a look at what happened…

Turn-Weltmeisterschaft in Ljubljana, Siegerehrung Mannschaft, UdSSR auf Platz 1, Sinaida Woronina, Larissa Petrik, Ljubow Burda, Tamara Lasakowitsch, Ljudmila Turischtschewa, Olga Karasewa
1970 Compulsories MAG WAG World Championships

1970: The Compulsory Routines for the World Championships in Ljubljana

What were the compulsory routines for the World Championships in Ljubljana?

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, there aren’t videos of the routines on YouTube. But in this post, you can find the English text and drawings for both the men’s and women’s compulsories.

1970 Code of Points WAG

1970: The Women’s Code of Points

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.