The Latvian newspaper Sports did interviews with Natalia Kuchinskaya and Klaus Köste at the 1974 edition of the Riga International. At the time, Kuchinskaya, one of the stars of the 1966 World Championships and 1968 Olympic Games, was working in Ukraine as a choreographer. Klaus Köste, the 1972 Olympic champion on vault, had retired from the sport and then came back.
Below, you can find translations of their interviews. You can find a report on the 1974 competition in Riga here.
Days after the 1974 edition of Moscow News, gymnasts traveled to Latvia for the 1974 Riga International. By holding these competitions in succession, delegations could get more for their money. Instead of flying to the Soviet Union for one meet, they could now fly to the Soviet Union for two meets:
Vice President of the International Gymnastics Federation and Olympic champion, Yuri Titov, said that holding two such large competitions one right after another is tremendously beneficial. Athletes, who have traveled a long way to our country, are happy to demonstrate their skills multiple times. And many experts think that gymnasts will exhibit emotionally charged performance full of new technical components in Riga.
Sports, Latvjijas PSR Sporta biedribu izdevums, Nr. 49, March 26, 1974
Starptautiskās vingrošanas federācijas viceprezidents olimpiskais čempions Jurijs Titovs teica, ka ir ļoti lietderīgi rīkot divas tik plašas sacensības pēc kārtas. Sportisti, kuri mērojuši tālu ceļu uz mūsu zemi, savu meistarību labprāt vēlas demonstrēt vairākkārt. Un daudzi speciālisti uzskata, ka tieši Rīgā vingrotāji rādīs emocionālas un jauniem tehniskiem elementiem bagātas kompozīcijas.
Gymnasts often debuted new skills in Riga. In 1972, Tsukahara Mitsuo did a full-twisting double back off high bar, and Beate Gehrke did one of the first Tsukaharas in women’s artistic gymnastics. In 1973, Nikolai Andrianov did a double pike on floor. (At the European Championships that year, he did a full-twisting double tuck off rings.) Then, one year later, in 1974, Vladimir Marchenko did one of the first full-twisting double backs on floor at a large international competition. (Video below.)
By all accounts, the women’s all-around in 1974 was a nail-biting competition between Lidia Gorbik and Nellie Kim. Kim needed a 9.6 during the final rotation to win. She got a 9.5.
Moscow News, Russia’s oldest English-language newspaper, held its first gymnastics competition in 1974. Over the years, legends like Nellie Kim, Yelena Shushunova, Yelena Mukhina, Natalia Yurchenko, Svetlana Boginskaya, Bogdan Makuts, Dmitri Bilozerchev, Valeri Liukin, to name a few, won the all-around title at this competition.
In 1974, the competition drew several top 1972 Olympians, including gold medalists Elvira Saadi (URS), Viktor Klimenko (URS), Klaus Köste (GDR), Tsukahara Mitsuo (JPN), and Kenmotsu Eizo (JPN).
From a historical perspective, the 1974 competition is important because Yelena Abramova (URS) landed the first double back on women’s floor at a large international competition. As Sovetsky Sport reported, “It was not perfect though.”
Here’s what was reported about the event at that time.
In 1973, the IOC Programming Commission and the FIG engaged in a delicate dance in which the IOC presented a list of concerns and the FIG had to come up with solutions that appeased the IOC. (This wasn’t new. For example, in 1957, this dance led to the elimination of group rhythmic exercises in women’s gymnastics and the creation of event finals.)
In 1973, one of the IOC’s concerns was the number of gymnasts per country in the all-around and event finals. The FIG’s solution allowed only three gymnasts per country into the all-around finals and two gymnasts per country into the apparatus finals.
Keep in mind that the apparatus finals, in particular, were heavily dominated by the top teams. For example, at the 1972 Olympics, there were four Soviet gymnasts in the women’s vault finals, four Japanese gymnasts in the men’s floor finals, and five Japanese gymnasts in the men’s high bar finals. (There were only six gymnasts per final.)
Another interesting tidbit: The IOC was already pushing to reduce team sizes to five members in 1973.
Below, you will find the letter that the FIG published in its Bulletin of Information in December 1973 (issue no. 4).
Only four gymnasts have swept the medals at the European Championships: Latynina in 1957, Čáslavská in 1965 and 1967, Tourischeva in 1973, and Boginskaya in 1990. All legends in their own right. And, as we’ll see below, Tourischeva won the floor title even with a fall during finals.
Looking back on this competition, vault was one of the more interesting events because much innovation was happening. Korbut introduced a full twist onto the horse. (Unfortunately, she was too injured to compete in finals and scratched after trying to sprint down the runway.)
Additionally, Tsukaharas, the vault that Tsukahara Mitsuo popularized in 1970, were becoming popular in women’s gymnastics. While others had competed the skill previously, Tourischeva, the reigning World and Olympic all-around champion, was now doing it, helping the vault seem less “masculine,” as one newspaper described it during the 1973 University Games.
Fun Trivia Fact: While the media coverage focused on Tourischeva and Korbut, neither gymnast received the highest score during the competition. Angelika Hellmann of East Germany did — with a 9.7 during the uneven bars finals.
So, with no further ado, here’s what happened at the 1973 European Championships in London.
In 1972, Zdena Dorňáková won the all-around at the Czechoslovak National Championships when she was only 14. She finished 27th in the all-around at the Munich Olympics, suffered an injury right before the 1973 European Championships, and finished 19th in the all-around at the 1974 World Championships in Varna.
Because she won the national title at such a young age, she was a source of fascination in the Czechoslovak media in the early 1970s, and she was portrayed as the gymnast who might rehabilitate Czechoslovak gymnastics. Below, you’ll find a 1973 profile of her, as well as a 1974 interview.
A topic of interest: The tension between the capital and the peripheral gyms. This was not a uniquely Czechoslovak problem. For instance, it was a challenge for Swiss gymnasts, as well.
The Soviet Union, like the rest of the world, wasn’t immune to Korbut mania. She appeared in numerous newspaper articles and photographs. The country’s media followed along as the Women’s Technical Committee considered banning Korbut’s famous skills, and the newspaper Izvestiiaportrayed Korbut as the star of the Soviet gymnasts’ British tour. There even was a short film about Korbut in 1973. It was titled The Joys, the Sorrows, and the Dreams of Olga Korbut (Радости, огорчения, мечты Ольги Корбут).
Below, you’ll find a small collection of Soviet media about Korbut, including the aforementioned film and an article from Soviet Woman, a bimonthly illustrated magazine out of Moscow.
Note #1: There will be references to Knysh below. It should also be mentioned that Korbut has alleged that Knysh sexually assaulted her. Knysh denied the allegations. He died in 2019.
Note #2: There will be references to weight and weight-shaming in this article.
It’s an understatement to say that the world couldn’t get enough of Korbut after the 1972 Olympics.
In fact, after the Munich Olympics, the Soviet team didn’t go home. They left immediately for a tour of West Germany, which upset Korbut. As she recalls her autobiography, My Story, she just wanted to go home:
So, after we had already done our best at the Olympics, expending our entire physical and emotional strength, we had to travel from one city to another for the next two weeks, sometimes performing as often as twice a day. We would have to use non-standard small apparatuses in small school gymnasiums, but that was the least of our problems. It was as though someone had gone up to Bob Beamon, the Olympic long-jump champion at Mexico City in 1968, right after he had jumped an incredible 29 ft 2½ in, and said, “Good job, Bob, you’ve done well. Now you have to jump again, for at least thirty feet this time.
The Sports Committee’s only interest was making more money, even if it was at the expense of our health and emotional well-being. We were like slave labor to them.
The touring didn’t stop there, and because Korbut was the biggest star on the team, the contracts reportedly demanded that Korbut participate in the tours — even when she didn’t want to. As Korbut tells it, she didn’t want to come to the United States, and Larisa Latynina, the head coach at the time, had to fetch her.
Once Korbut and the rest of the Soviet team made it to the United States, they performed around the country and made a trip to the White House to meet with President Nixon. Members of an unofficial Olga Korbut fan club greeted them everywhere, and Korbut appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
If that weren’t tiring enough, a few months later, the Soviet team headed to Great Britain, where Korbut was the star, appearing on British billboards and headlining exhibitions.
Of course, there were detractors — those who didn’t think Korbut’s gymnastics was all it was cracked up to be. But their voices were largely outnumbered by far more enthusiastic ones.
In the following post, we’ll look at a small fraction of the Olga mania that swept the globe in 1973.
At the 1973 University Games, the Soviet women were able to repeat their 1970 success, winning team gold and sweeping the all-around podium. They also won gold on every individual apparatus — with Olga Korbut winning three of the four event finals. (The Moscow University Games held an all-around final and apparatus finals for the first time.)
The increasing level of difficulty was evident at the 1973 Universiade. Even though the Women’s Technical Committee was debating whether to ban a standing back tuck on beam, more and more gymnasts were attempting the skill after Korbut and Thies did the skill in Munich. At least three gymnasts performed the skill at the 1972 Soviet National Youth Championships, as did Joan Moore at the 1972 Chunichi Cup. And at the 1973 University Games, Hayashida also attempted a standing back tuck.
Women’s vault was also changing. Gehrke had done a Tsukahara at the 1972 Riga International, and one year later, the vault was becoming more commonplace with Bogdanova winning the vault title in Moscow with her “masculine Tsukahara,” as Sovetsky Sport called it.
Here’s what happened at the 1973 University Games…
Japan’s winning streak at the University Games ended in 1973. From 1961 until 1970, they won every all-around title in men’s gymnastics, and when team awards were added to the gymnastics competition in 1963, they won four consecutive Universiade team titles.
But in Moscow in 1973, the Soviet Union won the Universiade team title and swept the all-around podium. In fact, Japan went home without a single gold medal — not even in the event finals. (Event finals and the all-around final were new to the Universiade in 1973.) As you’ll see below, the Japanese delegation thought that there was some suspicious judging at play.
Setting aside the question of judging for a moment, there was a lot of exciting gymnastics in 1973.