If you’re reading this site, you’re a gym nerd at heart. Now, it’s time to see just how much of a gym nerd you are. Take the quiz below to find out how much you know about the 1970 World Championships.
The Hungarian delegation’s reaction to the 1970 World Championships is fascinating. As you’ll see in the articles below, they envied the organization and financial resources of the top countries, and after a sixth-place finish for the women and an eleventh-place finish for the men in Ljubljana, they certainly would not have predicted the future: a team bronze medal in women’s gymnastics at the 1972 Olympic Games.
In addition, the second article raises an astute question: Had the era of long careers in women’s gymnastics ended? It’s a question that would re-emerge in several articles during this time period.
What follows is a translation of two articles printed in Békés Megyei Népújság on January 6 and 7, 1971. They were written by József Lukács, who would go on to become the Hungarian women’s head coach from 1983 to 1989.
At the 1970 World Championships, the Romanian women’s team took 5th place while the men’s team took 8th. Afterward, Constantin Macovei, a reporter for the Romanian sports periodical Sportul, wrote a series of reflections. He criticized the unfair judging in Ljubljana and praised the women’s program for being on track, particularly Ceampelea and Ioan.
As for the men’s program, Macovei provided several concrete suggestions, including scheduling matches that will push the gymnasts rather than give them a guaranteed victory. In addition, he looked forward to the performances of upcoming gymnasts like Adrian Stoica, who would one day become the President of the Men’s Technical Committee at the FIG.
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…
The 1970 World Championships were a pivotal moment in the history of gymnastics. Men’s vault was considered boring in the late 1960s. But that changed at the 1970 World Championships when Tsukahara unveiled his namesake vault. The crowd loved it. In fact, during the optionals portion of the World Championships, the crowd protested Tsukahara’s 9.75.
Note: If you want to be extremely pretentious, you can call a “Tsukahara” a “Tivoli Vault.” Reportedly, that’s what Tsukahara was going to name the vault.
In addition to the debut of the Tsukahara vault, Kenmotsu, the 1970 World All-Around Champion, attempted a triple twist on floor. After the 1968 Olympics, he spent two years trying to personalize his gymnastics. It’s debatable whether or not he achieved his goal. Endo, Japan’s head coach at the time, bluntly said, “What sets Kenmotsu apart from others? I do not know very well.” Ouch.
Here’s what else happened at the 1970 World Championships…
At the 1970 World Championships, the favorite for the men’s all-around title should have been Kato Sawao, the winner of the all-around in Mexico City in 1968. However, in February of 1970, he tore his right Achilles tendon while tumbling on floor. It was a major topic of conversation at the World Championships in Ljubljana. Here’s just one news report on the matter:
Endo: “Early this year [Kato] suffered an Achilles tendon injury during a dismount, which was difficult to heal. By the time things got going again, he was already eliminated. Too bad for him, but there was nothing that could be done about it.”De Tijd, Oct. 31, 1970
Endo: “Begin dit jaar kreeg hij bij een afsprong een achillespeesblessure, die moeilijk genas. Toen het weer een beetje ging, was hij al geëlimineerd. Jammer voor hem, maar daar was niets aan te doen.”
The injury wasn’t just a major topic of conversation at the 1970 World Championships; it was also a major moment in Kato’s life. 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 dedicates two entire chapters to his Achilles tear, his recovery, and his mindset after the injury. What follows are translations of short excerpts from his book.
North Korea caused a lot of excitement before the 1970 World Championships. The country’s gymnasts were supposed to compete, which left many gymnastics pundits speculating about North Korea’s chances of placing in the men’s competition. For example, this is what a Swiss newspaper wrote:
The Koreans, in the opinion of Bulgarian specialists, who visited them, do not train less than eight hours a day, at the rate of five practices per week, and, when one knows their natural gifts, one can be certain that their participation “will hurt.” From there, we will have, in our opinion, a peloton comprising the United States, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Switzerland fighting for 5th place.L’Express, Oct. 22, 1970
Les Coréens, de l’avis de spécialistes bulgares, qui les visitèrent, ne s’entraînent pas moins de huit heures par jour, à raison de cinq entraînements par semaine et, lorsqu’on connaît leurs dons naturels, on peut être certain que leur entrée « fera mal ». Dès lors, on aura, à notre avis, un peloton comprenant, les Etats-Unis, la Tchécoslovaquie, la Pologne et la Suisse luttant pour la 5me place.
North Korea’s road to participating in FIG competitions and events was a bumpy one, to say the least. While it was hard to gain information on North Korean gymnastics in the 1960s, one story was reported extensively.
At the end of June 1966, the FIG hosted a judges’ course in Tokyo. North Korean delegates were supposed to attend, but there were some hiccups. Let’s take a look at what happened.
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.
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.