Olga Strazheva (USSR) and Valery Lyukin (USSR) --
Winners of the 'MN' Prizes

Moscow News, No. 14   

Parades of contestants, prize-awarding ceremonies, unique elements and falls from the apparatuses, stormy applause and sighs of disappointment, floor exercises performed by a six-year-old boy, modern dances with elements of sport in them, a parade of hairdos by Moscow hairdressers, flowers, professional meetings of coaches, talks among contestants, the festively decorated hall and the multilingual Babel of voices -- all that was to be found at the three-day-long gymnastics festival.

The gymnasts from all over the world converged on Moscow for the 14th time.  The number of countries taking part reached a record 32 (the same as it was last year).  Gymnasts from Australia and Peru came for the first time.

Sportswise, the composition of the contestants cannot, of course, be called uniform.  And, drawing on terminology from other sports, we can say the Soviet gymnasts won with a clear advantage.  What is the explanation for this?  Above all, it is the existence of the Soviet school of gymnastics, which needs no special recommendations, by the available major reserves, and, of course, by the fact that there were nearly no betitled gymnasts among the foreign gymnasts.  The year is just beginning.  And it is a year of very responsible competitions, and, as is usual in such cases, the best gymnasts do not take part in major tournaments.

Our competition, if we're to judge by its place in the tournament schedule, is, essentially, the first major competition of the world gymnastics season.  It is precisely here that quite often we meet for the first time with the gymnasts who, later on, become world leaders, like, for example, Nelli Kim, Viktor Klimenko, Maria Filatova, Vladimir Markelov, Natalya Yurchenko, Bogdan Makuts, Vera Kolesnikova, Yuri Korolyov, Yelena Shushunova, Dmitry Bilozerchev and so on, ad infinitum.

In sports, as in the theatre, people often go to see certain athletes and actors perform.  This is as it should be.  But in this case we should make an exception.  The MN Prize is a friendly competition.  Its results do not influence the gymnast's status in the world hierarchy of the sport.  Hence the newcomers, the mistakes and the glaring difference in skill.  The tournament has become a school for many foreign and young Soviet gymnasts.  A school, in which the much more experienced people (including our coaches) share their know-how with young gymnasts.

In the last few years talk has flared up, now and again, about the over-complexity of the exercises about elements bordering on risk, etc.  Is it possible to limit the voluntary exercises in different events by a definite set of elements and not to add anything new?  No, it isn't.  The same as it is impossible to stop development in other fields of life.  There was a time when a complete revolution in the air without support, i.e.,  a salto, was called "salto-mortale" -- a "deadly jump."  That was about one complete turn, and on March 27, the first day of the competition, Lyukin performed in his floor exercises a triple salto!  If a triple salto on the landing from the horizontal bar is becoming something of a routine, then the performance of it on the mat testifies once again to the inexhaustible nature of human capability.  Some elements, which used to be the exclusive property of men's gymnastics, are now easily performed by girl gymnasts on asymmetrical bars (big turns, fly-overs) and in floor exercises (double salto).

Besides the prizes awarded to the winners by MN, the USSR Gymnastics Federation awarded the winners gold, silver and  bronze medals -- 37 all told.  The USSR got 23; Bulgaria, the DPRK, and Romania -- 4 each; and Cuba and Japan  -- 1 each.  Such a distribution of the medals among the foreign gymnasts should be considered normal if we discount the absence of PRC gymnasts among the medal winners.  This time both Chinese teams were composed mainly of young gymnasts.  Among the Romanian girls Tudor did very well, picking up three bronze medals.  The gymnasts from the DPRK left a good impression as they did at previous tournaments.

This time we got to know some newcomers -- gymnasts from Australia.  Judging by what we saw, they are attempting to keep up with the rapid progress of gymnastics. 

The Rarest Opportunity

Elizabeth Kunz (Switzerland) and Luigi Cimnaghi (Italy) were, probably, among all other guests, the most interested people at the competition.  They head the men's and women's technical committees of the European Gymnastics Union and are responsible for the preparations and holding of the European championship in Moscow.  "It is easy to understand our desire to capitalize on the rarest opportunity to test all the championships services at such a tournament as the MN Prize," said Elizabeth Kunz.  "We're worried because the Union was set up in 1982 and it is the first European championship to be held independently by us in Moscow.  Quite a few questions arise but they are rather quickly dispelled thanks to the know-how of the Soviet Gymnastics Federation in organizing major competitions."

Complexity, Beauty, Artistry

The success formula in modern gymnastics is complexity plus beauty plus artistry.  The idea was voiced in the comments made on the MN Prize by Olympic champions and former popular Soviet athletes Yelena Davydova, Boris Shakhlin and Vladimir Markelov.

"The degree of difficulty of the girls' routines has increased in the few months which separate us from the last season," says Yelena Davydova, a postgraduate student at the Leningrad Physical Culture Institute, a judge at our competition.  "It is a complexity multiplied by the aspiration of the girls to raise the artistic standard of their performance.  As I see it, beautiful gymnastics is making a comeback, for example, with pretty turns on the beam, and elegant dance-oriented floor exercises.  And, true enough, the going in for complexity for the sake of complexity which set in after the 1976 Olympics had led, gradually, to the spectators losing interest in women's gymnastics which started to turn more and more to acrobatics.  However, the girls have again started to give tangibly more attention to completeness of compositions and to artistry of performance.  All this should have a favorable effect on the development of the sport."

"The gymnasts have shown the routines which they are, apparently, preparing for the Olympics," said Boris Shakhlin, member of the Technical Committee of the International Gymnastics Federation, deputy chief judge at the MN Prize.  "If the performance at times was not confident enough, that was only because it takes time to polish the most complex acrobatics.  The gymnasts take bold risks, especially on the horizontal bar, but on the rings, even possessing good performing techniques, they do not always use them to the full, because they lack adequate strength."

"At present quite a few gymnasts know practically all the main difficult elements," said Vladimir Markelov, director of the Central Army Club gymnastics school.  "Therefore, a gymnast must include in his programs unexpected connections and other elements, and to achieve stability, lucidity of performance and make the program well balanced so that the difficulty of its performance would be invisible."

"I liked the Bulgarians, which is nothing surprising.  You see, they are coached by a big celebrity of the past -- Stoyan Deltchev.  I think they'll make the sports world sit up and take notice very soon.  The Cubans also showed interesting vaults.  For competitions which attract such a large number of participant countries, to have greater effect, from the point of view of popularizing gymnastics among young people, and attract the greatest possible numbers of people, I think it is necessary to think once again about their advertisement, scenario and the possibility of inviting stars to take part in them."

An Instructive Experience

"It gave me great pleasure to come for the Moscow News Prize," said Nadia Comaneci, an Olympic champion and referee from Romania.  "This was a real festival for my favorite sport where, without exaggeration, all schools of world gymnastics were represented.  Contemporary gymnastics is special in that there are many top-class gymnasts around.  The fans were perhaps at a loss seeing so many stars perform.  They would have found it perhaps more comfortable to watch the progress of one or two stars over several years.  Every season brings forward new champions who rapidly advance gymnastics.  As before, I'm devoting all my time to gymnastics:  I'm preparing my country's team for the coming University Games and myself for refereeing at the European Championships in Moscow.  This tournament proved very useful to me from this point of view."

Colin Wright, the coach of Britain's women's team, said that three Soviet coaches had spent a month working in Britain not long ago with budding gymnasts and stars.  It was very helpful and he hoped for more such contacts. 

The MN tournament was for many countries a warm up for the European championships as it is for those who organize it.  The gymnasts, coaches and referees had a rare opportunity of getting to know the venue to host the European event.  I think the experience was instructive. 

"I studied at Moscow Physical Culture Institute for nine years and took a scientific degree in teaching," said Kamoun Abdelwahab, coach of Tunisia's team.  "It is easy to see why I was so happy to come to Moscow again to learn again, as it were.  We still lack in experience in training top gymnasts.  We don't have appropriate gear and every day of the tournament was very valuable to us."

Canadian coaches Deborah Vidmar and Mary-Lea Palmer said that Canadian  gymnasts come for every Moscow News tournament.  It is very helpful before the world championships.  Aside from being a sporting event the tournament is a chance for young people from different countries to meet and discuss things.

Czechoslovak coach Lubica Risova said:  "You cannot convey in words the intensity of competition between the tournament's top contestants.  And I can only imagine the joy of the winning girl and those who won the prizes in the combined event.  It is to be regretted, however, that the awards ceremony was attended mainly by the contestants.  The organizers should perhaps think about making the girls' combined event last not so long."

"The tournament was dominated by the Soviet girls.  I think they were especially successful in the floor exercises, the beam and the vaults.  Although I'm a referee, I'm particularly impressed by your Olga Strazheva who brings out the most thrilling routines with ease.  The impression is that the harder the routine the more pleasure it gives her to perform."

"I'd like to point out the problem of entering 14-year-old for competition.  It's not a matter of what image they project on the podium but whether their young organism can cope with the adult psychological stress.  It is not ruled out that their participation may tell on the contents of the women's popularity.  I think further research should be done into the matter."

French gymnast Frederic Longuepee said:  "Gymnasts in France say that if you want to be up to your rivals you should come to the Moscow tournament by all means.  This is my first time here but I felt here at home because there was an atmosphere of friendship and understanding in this beautiful gym.  The contestants are of a very high class.  You can see totally different directions that gymnasts take and you feel like participating more and more."

"We didn't bring our top gymnasts to the tournament," said coach of China's team E. Xiaoxing.  "But those who competed in Moscow are aspiring to take part in the world championships.  And they were doing their best here.  I'd like to note that having taken shape between both our countries' gymnastics federations are relations that promote skills of the gymnasts and the sport as a whole.  Now we cannot imagine our schedule of gymnastics events without the Prize."

A Memorable Debut

"Any distance is no distance at all for us, women, if what is involved is the prize for the most charming and elegant lady," joked Lee-Anne Murray from Australia.  "If I knew beforehand that you were giving away such a prize, I'd have come to the Moscow competition a long time ago.  I love flowers, music, attention and smiles from people around me.  And that's exactly the atmosphere that the competition is held in.  I'd like to come to Moscow once again."

Our Champions' Hopes

Valery Lyukin:  My goal this season is to qualify for the national team to take part in the European and world championships.  The victory at the MN Prize adds to my enthusiasm, imparts confidence and brings me near to this goal, even though I do realize that I'm in the stiffest possible competition, including Vladimir Novikov and Ravil Adeev, my main rivals at the MN Prize. These competitions have a good tradition -- the winners of the MN Prize go on to perform successfully at other competitions.  I must say I'm very eager to carry on the tradition.  I'm happy the spectators liked my new combinations, especially in the floor exercises.

Olga Strazheva:  Our national team is now composed of so many famous girl gymnasts that it is difficult to even dream of getting among them to go to competing to major events of the season.  However, the winners of the MN Prize did manage to qualify for the nationals in the past, for example, Yelena Shushunova, who wasn't known to anyone, but is now the famous world champion.  Therefore, my victory gives me hope.

Remark by FIG President

Yuri Titov (USSR), President, International Gymnastics Federation:  Sports experts, coaches, and contestants regard the present tournament as the first competition in the season which will see the European and world championships.  But it is not that alone.  Without any exaggeration the 1987 MN Prize became a most important stage for many of those who took part in it, in their preparations for the 1988 Olympics.  Here we could obviously discern the outlines of Olympic programs and see the probable candidates for the Olympic teams.  Because today gymnastics is such a sophisticated sport, neither gymnasts nor judges and coaches are capable of preparing for the Olympics, which is the main event in the four-year cycle, in just one season.  The MN Prize is rightly called the tournament of hopes.  I'd add -- Olympic hopes.

There's an Idea

Kyoji Itsukaichi and Hideo Inoue, from the Organizational Committee for the Chunichi Cup Gymnastics Tournament, came to Moscow to present the prize from the Chunichi Shimbun newspaper to the best girl gymnast at the MN Prize and also to invite Soviet gymnasts to Japan for the next Chunichi Cup due in November.  Talking with Mr. Inoue, we got the idea.  What if the two newspapers, which hold competitions every year, inaugurate a joint prize to be awarded to the best gymnasts for the sum-total results of their performances in both tournaments?  Naturally, it is difficult to put the idea through, because quite a few problems arise.  For example, it is the problem of the same gymnasts competing in both tournaments.  However, it is possible to find a formula for holding the unusual competition, granted there is the will to do so.  The innovation would, of course, raise the interest of leading gymnasts in the two tournaments, raise their prestige, help make gymnastics more popular and expand friendly contacts between young people from different countries.  Sharing his impression about the MN Prize, our guest noted the friendly atmosphere at the competitions and their efficient organization.

This page was created on November 2, 2002.
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