A Gymnastics Gala in Moscow

Moscow News, #15, 1976   For the third year, spring arrived at the Palace of Sports cloaked in gymnastics.  It arrived in high spirits -- with music, applause and in multi-colored attire.  The international competition again attracted a large number of entries and that, of course, shows how popular it is.  It's nice to see beside the veteran gymnast known around the world, the newcomer to international competition.  Each of them gets what he needs.  One will be polishing up the more complex elements "in audience conditions"; the other will be learning and getting to know what international competition is all about.  Therefore, the tournament is useful, and has quickly acquired its own original face among the many other international events.

A Concert Before the Concert.  This year competitors and audience were in for a surprise.  On the first day there was only the official opening ceremony and gymnasts' procession.  After that acrobats, calisthenics masters and trainees at the children's and teenager's sports schools put on a show.  We saw a 7-year-old girl make her first steps along the beam, and the wonderful skill of two male acrobats -- world champions.  A male gymnast did something new -- floor exercises to music.  Today many gymnasts (both men and women) do a double salto in the floor exercises.  In the show acrobat Zipunov did a triple salto, setting off a storm of applause.  The acrobat foursome showed many unique elements (excellently done, too) rarely seen even in the professional circus arena.

The Hosts are Beyond Competition.  Next day the men began.  As before, the gymnasts competed only in the voluntary program, even though the sponsors offered those willing a chance to see how well they were doing in the compulsory program, too.  But nobody wanted to take time with "school stuff."

As expected, the main rivals for top honors were the Soviet lads.  Zoltan Magyar (Hungary), world pommel horse champion, Teraishi Okamura (Japan), who took part in the Munich Olympics, and other guests didn't quite match the hosts in the combined event.  Many of the world's best gymnasts are preparing for Montreal according to their own special training schedules and didn't want to show their best in Moscow.  This was true of our main rivals -- the Japanese.

Vladimir Marchenko took the lead after the third event and made sure he kept it.  Steadiness on all the elements distinguishes his style.  He might not be as brilliant as others, but his exercises are always very neat.  Moscow spectators also deserve a boost.  They applauded not only the leaders, but the successes of all the rest.

The Opinion of the Coach and the Winner.  Leonid Arkaev, senior coach of the USSR men's team was outwardly cool and collected during the competition.  He sat in the grandstand near the platform jotting down notes now and then.  After Marchenko finished his exercise on the rings with a complex, but very neatly performed jump off, and it became clear that he had won, I congratulated the coach and asked what he thought about the tournament.  Arkaev was terse.  "I'm pleased with the boys.  All of them performed well; none faltered.  We were about as prepared as planned.  Of course, we'll 'rev up' before going to Montreal.

I met Marchenko behind the scenes at the Palace.  Vladimir was in high spirits and, smiling, he told me about himself.  "I live in Grozny (a city in the south of the Russian Federation Ed.).  I'm 23 and have been in gymnastics for 14 years.  I've been on the national team for the last three years.  In the 1974 world championship I won the bronze medal on the parallel bars.  I'm really pleased with my victory here.  It's the first time I've competed for the paper's prize -- a chased coffer by Armenian masters.  The main goal now is Montreal, but one has to train hard for that, because the field there will be much stronger with the Japanese being, as usual, our most dangerous rivals."

The Winners in Pigtails.  The winner among the women (or should we say young girls, for the athletes are so very young) was also decided "in the family."  Three Soviet schoolgirls had a tightly-fought battle among themselves.  Who would come out on top wasn't decided until the very last apparatus.  Masha Filatova and Natasha Shaposhnikova (both 14) were bold, energetic and prepared to take risks.  But it was Svetlana Grozdova, through her greater competition experience (she is also somewhat older), who won the paper's prize for a second time -- a coffer by famous Fedoskino craftsmen.  Natasha trapped herself in the famous "Korbut loop" -- she fell.  But the girl's willpower prevailed and she finished the exercise.  Grozdova excelled on the beam.  According to specialists, her exercise is a new word on this apparatus.  She does the most complex elements not along the beam, but across it.  This is very hard to explain; it has to be seen.  And Masha and Natasha perform double saltos in the floor exercises with such graceful ease that perhaps it's time for them to start thinking about triple saltos.

Among the visitors Americans Robin Huebner and Sharon Shapiro and Kim Chun Sen (KPDR) left their mark.  Robin, a small, strong girl in a boyish hairdo, was especially good.  Given time, she can develop into a leading gymnast.

Larisa Latynina, the senior coach of the country's women's national team, had a few words to say about how her girls performed.  "I'm pleased, but not completely.  Now one, now the other, seems to fall down somewhere.  There's not much time left, but still so much to do, more than enough."

Svetlana Grozdova (age 17), a schoolgirl from Rostov-on-Don, who won this year's national overall title (about a month ago), didn't hide her delight at her second victory in our competition:  "I'm very pleased that, following my illness a year ago (she was seriously ill, but not because of a sports injury Ed), I won a second major tournament in a row.  The entire atmosphere of this year's competition helped produce good results."

Nobody was Indifferent.  The culmination of the competition -- finals in the separate events -- drew some 9,000 spectators.  This throng of gymnastics fans, all bursting with enthusiasm, helped make the competition more interesting.  The applause, the loud shouts of "hold it!" (when the gymnast dismounts from the apparatus), and the dismayed "ohs!" when someone faltered created a very friendly atmosphere.  And the gymnasts went all out to please.  What a pity we couldn't ask for an "encore" by Filatova and Huebner in the floor exercises, by Magyar on the pommel horse, by Okamura on the rings, by Grozdova and Shaposhnikova on the beam, by Igarashi on the horizontal bar and many others.

Unfortunately, there's not enough space to tell you about every participant in this wonderful festival of youth, optimism, strength and grace.  But they all merit praise.  That day (just as on the other competition days) time had wings, which heralds a thrilling event.

This page was created on August 4, 2001.
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