They Gave It Their All

By Yevgeny Lanfang

Moscow News, No. 47, 1985   The world championship in Montreal confirmed once again the extremely high skill of Soviet gymnasts, the tremendous know-how of the coaches and the wisdom of specialists.  The Soviet gymnasts picked up 11 out of 17 gold medals.


The sharing of the first place in the overall competition among women gymnasts was a unique occurrence, but this time it was doubly so, because the world overall title was shared by two schoolgirls -- Yelena (Lena) Shushunova, 16, from Leningrad, and Oksana Omelyanchik, 15, from Kiev.

Quite a few people predicted even before the championships that Shushunova would be the champion.  The Reuters correspondent wrote not long before the tournament: "Shushunova is competing in only her second major gymnastics event next week -- and can expect to conquer the world."  And there was more than a mere grain of truth in those words!

Lena went through the season with flying colors.  She won, one after another, the overall European title, the USSR Cup and the MN Prize.  All the provided grounds for such forecasts.

Then the world championship came.  When performing on the asymmetrical bars in the compulsory program, Lena fell twice.  As a result, after the first day of the competition she shared the 17th-18th places.  It looked as if she lost all her chances in the combined exercises.  After that she had only to be concerned with the team scoring.  However, Lena's is not such a disposition.  After the voluntary program she was 7th, and at the end, she wound up the first overall together with her teammate.  She received one of the few 10-point marks that the judges gave, in the course of the seven days of performances, to the more than 360 gymnasts from 41 countries.  Lena's voluntary program was astounding in its difficulty, but her elements are no tricks -- they are a step forward in the development of gymnastics.

As for Oksana Omelyanchik (even though she is this year's national overall champion!), there were no such forecasts as in Shushunova's case.  Oksana was little known on the international arena.  But the girl, far from getting lost amidst the more betitled of her rivals, performed with finesse and did a brilliant job.

I watched her floor exercises thrice, and each time experienced real pleasure.  Her cheerfulness, easy manner, combined with the unconstrained performance of the most complex acrobatic elements, touched both the audience and the exacting judges.  Her 10 points and the gold medal, in addition to her overall victory, speak for themselves.  Her mini-shows were an adornment of the championship and the journalists voted the pretty girl "Miss Gymnastics."

Yuri Korolyov, 23, a student from Vladimir, won the men's overall world title in gymnastics already back in 1981.  Since then he had been quite successful at many international and national competitions.  He won many titles and prizes, including the MN Prize (twice).

This year Yuri wasn't so conspicuous, and some people because of this decided that he was included on the USSR team only due to experience rather than as the team's leader.  This was Yuri's third world championship.  In the postwar championships no gymnast managed to win the world title twice (among women there were such instances -- Latynina and Turishcheva).  Korolyov, however, proved otherwise.  He performed exceptionally evenly.  And evenly means always the highest possible standards.  In some of the exercises he simply dumbfounded the spectators with the difficulty of his elements.  At the championships he came out 21 times to the platform and collected quite a nice hoard of gold medals -- four in all (two in separate exercises, the personal overall title and victory in the team scoring).

Valentin Mogilny, 19, from Leninsk-Kuznetsky, placed only the sixth overall, but he was the best in the exercises on the parallel bars and on the pommel horse, outdoing all his rivals.  The gymnast performs very easily the most difficult elements without visible effort.

Vladimir Artyomov, the second overall, of course merits honorable mention.  He led the competition for two days and only at long last relinquished to his forceful townsman.

Besides the above-mentioned, gold medals for the victory in team scoring were presented to Natalya Yurchenko, Olga Mostepanova, Irina Baraksanova, Vera Kolesnikova, Yuri Balabanov, Alexander Tumilovich and Alexei Tikhonkikh.  It is an honor for an athlete to perform at a world championship.  And to win in the team scoring is a victory twice over.  Each one strove for victory and everyone did all they could.  That is the only way to win in the team scoring.


Dmitry Bilozerchev was involved in a car accident on the eve of the championships.  Somebody failed to recuperate from an injury.  Someone else...  But still someone has to go -- and not just to compete, but to fight for victory (otherwise why travel to the other side of the world).  And in this case it is the coaches and the specialists who must make their decision.  It is hard to choose if the choice is not so great.  But it is, probably, even harder when the choice is really ample.  Let's give their due to the senior coaches -- Leonid Arkaev (men's team), Andrei Rodionenko (women's team), Viktor Gavrichenkov (Shushunova's coach), Tatyana Perskaya (Omelyanchik's coach), Alexander Fyodorov (Korolyov's coach), Vladimir Astafyev (Mogilny's coach) and to all the other coaches who had imparted a part of (if not their entire) heart to their trainees.

I'd like to speak specially about one thing.  According to the rules, 36 gymnasts are allowed to compete in the overall competition.  Each country can field three of its best gymnasts.  They are determined according to the sum total of points earned in the compulsory and voluntary programs.  In the competition of the girl gymnasts before the concluding day of the championship, the Soviet girls were placing: Yurchenko - 2nd, Mostepanova - 3rd, Baraksanova - 4th, Omelyanchik - 6th, and Shushunova - 7th.  And Yurchenko was behind Ecaterina Szabo (Romania) by 0.1 point, Omelyanchik - 0.575 and Shushunova - by 0.725.  It looked like it would be Yurchenko, Mostepanova and Baraksanova who would continue to compete.  But...  And here we must speak of the specialists' wisdom.  They fielded Shushunova and Omelyanchik (you know the result).  Yurchenko was 6th overall.  The FIG rules allow for such changes in the lineup.  The team's leaders took a risk.  But the result showed, it was a calculated risk.  The girls did everything possible and impossible to live up to the coaches' expectations.


The pick of world gymnastics got together on one platform since the 1984 Olympics.  True, the US teams which were so brilliant in Los Angeles were very much changed.  Mary Lou Retton (USA), the overall Olympic champion, didn't come, which was a pity.  As was expected, the competition for the medals was mainly among the gymnasts of the USSR, the PRC, Romania, Japan and the GDR.

The GDR gymnasts did well, in spite of the many changes in the team's lineup.  They won a gold medal in the women's competitions on the asymmetrical bars and bronze medals in the individual and team scorings.  The specialists have already noticed such names as Kersten and Fahnrich.

Much more was expected from the men's team from Japan.  Koji Gushiken, the overall 1984 Olympic champion, failed even to make the 10 best gymnasts.

The Chinese gymnasts Tong Fei and Li Ning did well.  I would like to single out the young gymnast Xu Zhuiqiang.  He placed fourth, managing to outperform many of the more well-known gymnasts. The performances by the gymnasts from the PRC are always distinguished for their delicateness, clear-cut manner and originality.  This time they were also true to form.

The girls from Romania did very well.  Especially Daniela Silivas, 15, who got the gold medal for the beam.  It is hard to say what happened to Ecaterina Szabo, many times 1984 Olympic champion.  She fell down from the beam and, as a result, placed only fifth.

And what about the US girls?  The US women's team was only sixth.  Only one of the USA's team members managed to qualify for the finals (in the vault), sharing 6th-7th places.

The championship showed that the gymnasts, even in the countries where this sport is not in the lead, are mastering difficult elements and strive not to lag behind the leaders.  The standard of skill grows, which is the main thing in any sport.  The achievements of individual gymnasts very soon become the property of many others.  This makes those in the lead seek all the time for novelties.

Judging has become stricter.  There were quite a few high marks.  But there were much less 10's (especially as compared with Los Angeles).  Thousandths of a point are now registered not only in the men's but in the women's performances as well.  This reflects the complexity of refereeing and, the main thing, the growth in the competition, which means in skill.

The next world championship is due to be held in 1987 in Rotterdam.

This page was created on April 13, 2002.
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