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Books Japan MAG

Kato Sawao Was a “Secret Gymnast” When He Started the Sport

Kato Sawao, the 1968 and 1972 Olympic gold medalist in the all-around, didn’t set out to become a gymnast. In fact, he originally wanted to be a baseball player. But his physical education teacher saw potential in him, and that’s how he became a “secret gymnast” who participated in gymnastics without telling his parents. 

In his autobiography, The Path of Beautiful Gymnastics: The Story of Kato Sawao (美しい体操の軌跡加藤沢男物語), Kato recounts his start in gymnastics. Below, I’ve translated and woven together a few chapters of his book to tell that story.

The caption reads: June 1962, around the time of the first year of the Niigata Minami High School gymnastics club. Prefectural tournament inter-high school preliminaries
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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
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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
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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);
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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)
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1971 European Championships Judging Controversy MAG

1971: Klimenko Ends Voronin’s Streak at the Men’s European Championships

The 1971 Men’s European Championships were held in Madrid from Friday, May 14 (opening ceremony) to Sunday, May 16, 1971 (event finals). Here are a few key takeaways:

  • As expected, the competition was a fight between Voronin and his younger teammate Klimenko. 
  • The Soviet gymnasts swept the all-around podium.
  • Unfortunately, Klimenko tore his Achilles on floor during the warm-ups for the event finals.
  • Oh, and there was some questionable judging.

Want more info? Let’s dive in.

Source: Modern Gymnast, Nov. 1971
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1971 Age Riga International USSR

1971: Lazakovich and Nakayama win the Inaugural Riga International

From April 23, 1971, until April 26, 1971, gymnasts from around the world gathered in the capital of Latvia for the inaugural Riga International. The competition took place a couple of weeks before the men’s European Championships, so the top European teams were reluctant to send their top gymnasts. Nevertheless, Japan sent one of its top gymnasts: Nakayama Akinori. 

On the women’s side, Tamara Lazakovich won the all-around, but much of the attention centered on 13-year-old Nina Dronova, who performed a rare double full on floor. A fall on an aerial front walkover on beam kept Dronova off the all-around podium, but she bounced back to win two gold medals during the event finals.

Reminder: At the 1970 Congress, the FIG lowered the competitive age to 14.

Sovetsky Sport, Apr. 27, 1971
Thanks to The Medal Count and Olga for helping me track down the articles from Sovetsky Sport.
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1971 MAG USA USSR WAG

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.

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1971 Code of Points MAG

1971: The Supplement to the 1968 Men’s Code of Points

In 1971, the Men’s Technical Committee issued an update to the 1968 Code of Points. But instead of printing a new document, they printed pages that were meant to be pasted over certain sections of the 1968 Code of Points. As you’ll see, the document has a funky layout as a result.

This supplement is important for two reasons. First, it established the individual all-around final. Second, it placed even more emphasis on risk, originality, and virtuosity.

Reminder: At the time, the women’s Code of Points did not have any requirements for risk, originality, and virtuosity.

Let’s take a look at the major changes…

Cover of the 1971 supplement to the Code of Points
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1970 Books USSR

1970: A Book Review of Latynina’s Autobiography, Balance

In 1970, four years after her last World Championships, Latynina published her autobiography titled Balance. The book is somewhat meandering, but it captures Latynina’s mentality as a gymnast and as a coach.

What follows is a translation of a book review, as well as a few quotes from the book itself.