Before Nadia Comăneci’s and Nellie Kim’s perfect 10s at the 1976 Olympic Games, there was a long line of gymnasts who obtained perfect scores at the Olympic Games, the World Championships, or the European Championships. (Originally, the World Championships were called the International Tournament.)
Some of them even managed perfect totals, meaning that they received the maximum score for their compulsory and optional routines combined.
So, here’s a chronological list of the gymnasts who were “perfect” before Comăneci and Kim.
French gymnasts had been the victors at the first International Tournaments in 1903 and 1905, but the Czech Sokols ended that streak in 1907 when they hosted the International Tournament in Prague.
A rivalry was forming between the two top teams in Europe: the Czech Sokols and the French. However, the Czech media subtly questioned how European the rivalry was, given that France’s best gymnasts were from Algeria. (The International Tournament was a competition run by the Bureau of European Gymnastics Federations.)
Regardless, the French Algerian gymnasts stole the show in Luxembourg in 1909. In fact, one of them registered two perfect event totals, scoring the maximum number of points for both the compulsory and optional routines on not just one but two events.
Note: French Algerian gymnasts had competed in previous International Tournaments. However, the gymnasts’ place of origin hadn’t been a major topic in the media coverage prior to 1909. The topics of empire and Eurocentrism, though fascinating, are far too thorny to broach in a competition recap.
In the official proceedings of the Sokol Rally, the Czechs wrote:
All the professional journals of Europe have written of the fitness of the Czechs, of the understanding in the nation, and today it is certain that we stand first in their eyes and that we have set the direction and pattern for gymnastic endeavors in Europe.
V slet všesokolský 1907: pamětní list vydaný péči
Všecky odborné časopisy evropské psaly o tělocvičné zdatnosti Čechů, o porozumění v národu a dnes je jisto, že v jejich očích stojíme na prvním místě a že jsme udali směr i vzor tělocvičným snahám v Evropě.
But that statement wasn’t exactly true. The German-language press had quite a few negative things to write about the Czech Sokols after the 1907 slet.
Almost 70 years before Nadia Comăneci and Nellie Kim scored their perfect 10s at the Montreal Olympics, there were several perfect scores awarded during the 1907 International Tournament. (The International Tournament was the original name for the World Championships.)
The majority of those perfect scores were for the French team. Nevertheless, the Czech Sokols, newcomers to the International Tournament, took first, ending the French team’s winning streak.
Oh, and, in 1907, one of the first age controversies in gymnastics occurred.
Did you know that, once upon a time, there weren’t gold, silver, and bronze medals at the World Championships? Instead, there was a collection of art, and each team chose which piece of art they wanted. Winners got to choose first.
These are the little tidbits that you learn when you stumble across the rules for old gymnastics meets. Let’s take a look at the rules for the 1907 International Tournament (now called the World Championships).
In 1938, Eugen Mack had yet another perfect score on vault. However, it wasn’t enough to beat the Czechoslovak team.
The Swiss team struggled in athletics (and rings). Shot put, in particular, dashed their hopes of becoming world champions.
Reusch, one of the top Swiss gymnasts, had a particularly rough time with athletics. Though Reusch won four apparatus titles, his scores didn’t count for the team total, which was based on the top six all-around scores. Reusch finished 7th on his team and 24th in the all-around overall. He scored a 0 in shot put (7.45 m).
Have you ever seen an old rulebook for the World Championships? Well, you’re in luck. In this article, you can find the official rulebook for the 1938 World Championships in Prague, as well as a translation of the sections.
From a historian’s perspective, this rulebook is important because it is a precursor to the 1949 Code of Points, specifying deductions and including lengthy criteria for evaluating compulsory routines.