Four Days in the Olimpiisky

By Alexander Butsenin and Evgeny Lanfang

Moscow News, No. 22, 1987   The new European overall champions are Daniela Silivas (Romania) and Valery Lyukin (USSR).  Does that come as a surprise?  It is hard to give a simple answer to that.  They both come from countries where gymnastics is popular.  Daniela is a gymnast of world renown, while Valery has literally broken through to the front ranks by winning the 1987 Moscow News Prize and is the overall national champion.  The surprises were Elena Shushunova and Yuri Korolyov -- winners of the 1986 World Cup and 1985 overall world champions -- who failed to win the gold medals in the combined exercises.  We must say that unpredictability is one of the most attractive features of big-time sport.

The European championship in Moscow (May 21-24) drew to the Olimpiisky Sports Complex 137 gymnasts from 27 countries (71 girls and 66 boys, over 300 correspondents and many well-known sports figures).

Daniela Silivas, 17, was best in all four events, piling up 39.775 points.  The difficulty of her routines and cleanliness of performance made it possible for her to leave the runner-up behind with a margin of 0.3 points.  This is a very considerable margin at a championship which lasts such a short time.

How, then, did the three Soviet girls perform?  Alevtina Pryakhina, 14, merits the highest praise, not only because she was the runner-up (39.45).  The debutante of the championship demonstrated boldness and new routines.  On the beam, in the floor exercises and on the vault she demonstrated original elements for the first time in the world.

It was hard to even imagine the energetic and betitled gymnast Elena Shushunova, who turned 18 on May 23, would, all of a sudden, make a mistake on the asymmetrical bars (19th place).  She got overexcited and nervous and that let her down.  In the combined exercises she shared third place with Diana Dudeva (Bulgaria) -- with 39.2 points each.

Svetlana Baitova, 1986 overall USSR champion, was unrecognizable.  She was 10th overall -- 38.275 (failures in the asymmetrical bars -- 28th place, and on the beam -- 17th place).

A lot of praise has been leveled about Lyukin, the new men's champion.  And the newcomer to the USSR national team is living up to them.  His triple salto in the floor exercises alone is a world record in gymnastics.  However, Valery did well not only in the floor exercises.  He totaled  59.15 points, outstripping his teammate Yuri Korolyov, twice world champion, by 0.5 points.

We're absolutely sure that if the coaches had put Korolyov into the second shift where the strongest were competing, the competition would have been much stiffer.  But we are not to judge why the coaches didn't do it.  When the main claimants to the title compete on one platform then the competition is always of greater spectator value and full of more surprises.  An example of this was the performance of Valentin Mogilny (5th place with 58.25 points).  A most experienced gymnast, who laid claims to a medal, on the last apparatus (his favorite, by the way) -- the pommel horse, he made a grave mistake and had to say goodbye to a prize in the combined exercise.  For the usual reason -- stiff competition and nerves.  The third overalls were Gyorgy Guczoghy (Hungary) among men and, as we've already said, Diana Dudeva in the women's category.  Gyorgy is a veteran gymnast and the championship in Moscow was his fifth, but Diana has never before achieved such a major result.

The championship provided ample food for thought for the coaches, gymnasts and experts about the further increase in the difficulty of programs, the growing psychological stress and the need to search for optimum versions of judging.

The new European champions in the separate events are now -- Lyukin, floor exercises, pommel horse, parallel bars and horizontal bar; Mogilny, rings; Korolyov, long horse.

Silivas -- asymmetrical bars, beam and floor exercises; Shushunova -- vault.

Gymnasts from Romania, Bulgaria, the GDR, West Germany, the USSR and Hungary won silver and bronze medals in various separate events.

All told, 39 medals were given away.  They were distributed as follows: the USSR-15; Romania-10; the GDR-6; Bulgaria and Hungary-3 each; and West Germany-2.

Valery Lyukin's 'Golden' Spring

"The MN Prize has a good tradition.  MN Prize winners go on to win other competitions in the season.  I must say, I'm very eager to carry on the tradition.  My goal this season is to make the USSR team for the European and world championships," Valery Lyukin, student at the physical culture institute in Alma-Ata, said after winning our prize.  His dream of competing at the European championship came true.  He became the European overall champion.  And in April he won the overall national title.

It was precisely at the MN Prize that Valery made his first step towards recognition on the adults' platform.  People started talking about him (he was previously known only to a rather narrow circle of experts) as a rising star who demonstrated the unique triple salto in floor exercises and difficult routines performed with utmost precision.

It would seem that making the debut at the adult championship at the age of 20 is a bit too late.  Remember Muscovite Dmitry Bilozerchev?  He became the 1983 world overall champion at 16.  That same year he won the European championship.

However, coach Edege Yarov, 35, from Alma-Ata, who trains the new European champion, is not daunted at all by the "prolonged" rise of his pupil to the summits of gymnastics.

"We should act from the specifics of a gymnast's organism," Yarov says.  "Some gymnasts have a constitution of a 20-year-old and physiologically they are up to adult stresses.  Others need time to grow.  Of course, it is possible to step up training.  But we mustn't think only about the speediest achievement of results.  This, quite often, tends to shorten a champion's lifetime in sport, and can produce disruptions in the development of the organism.  I'm all for champions having a long career in sport and I hope the gradual transition from the simple to the complex would make it possible to preserve as long as possible my pupil's best features -- the ease with which he performs, ability to jump, his amazing sense of coordination and his desire to improve."

Yarov noticed all these qualities of Lyukin some ten years ago at the Kazakhstan championship.  The boy came from Aktyubinsk where he was trained by Yuri Gorelnikov, his first coach.  As a rule, boys try many sports before they make their final choice.  But Valery came to join the gymnastics club, together with his brother, although the elder brother was against it.  The kid brother, however, persisted.  That was how he started, in 1974, to train in Gorelnikov's group, and the coach managed to strengthen Valery's interest in his favorite sport.

In 1978 Yarov invited Lyukin to come to Alma-Ata and train under him.  But not just to train.  The boy who lived in Aktyubinsk with his mother needed a male bringing up.  The coach took Valery to his own home although Yarov has two children of his own.  Valery started to live alone only last year.

"He proved to be a problem child," Yarov says.  "If you want to make him do something, you must persuade him that your idea is right, because he has his own ideas about everything.  However, this quality also helps when working with him.  Sometimes it is harder for me, looking from the outside, to find the best way to perform this or that element, to guess how it should be handled.  In such cases I can confidently rely on the opinions and proposals made by Valery."

He has one other asset.  He doesn't cringe before authorities and is capable of keeping his cool at the most decisive moments.  It sometimes happens that a gymnast does wonders at training sessions, but at competitions loses heart, failing to stand up to rivalry.  And Valery acts in the opposite way -- during competition he gets utterly transformed and can demonstrate everything he has learned in training.

In January 1986 he was invited for the first time at attend a training session of the country's best gymnasts.  "That was when I realized how much I still had to learn," says Valery.  "I saw how they train flat-out, how they polish their every movement.  And I learned from them, especially from Yuri Korolyov."

This spring was a "golden" one for Lyukin.  He also won at the USSR-USA match in April-May in Denver, Colo.  The match and the demonstration performance that followed it, went, according to him, far beyond the framework of a straight sports meet.

"We were welcomed very warmly everywhere we went," he says.  "We left with a feeling that we're leaving a great many friends across the ocean and that we, representatives of the two countries, should meet more often."

Four competitions -- four victories.  Now the time has come to fulfill his dream at the world championship.

The Debut, Friends, Hopes

At the championships there were many old acquaintances.

"The Union of European Gymnastics was set up in 1982 and held independently its first European championship," said Elisabeth Kunz (Switzerland), President of the UEG Women's Gymnastics Technical Commission.  "We were lucky that our debut took place in Moscow, the city which has the know-how of hosting the Olympic Games, world championships and other major competitions, gymnastics included.  We also had the rare opportunity to get acquainted, on the eve of the championship, with the work of the services at the Olimpiisky Sports Complex during the time of the MN Prize. All the questions of organizing competitions were settled quickly and professionally.  A very close-knit team of organizers worked with us and it is to a large extent due to them and to Muscovites' hospitality that the championship was a success."

"I had no doubts that the hosts and the Romanian gymnasts would be the pace-setters in the women's competitions.  But the tangible progress made by the girls from Bulgaria, Spain, West Germany and France came as a surprise.  The Czechoslovak girls performed below par."

"At present our Union is busy organizing another competition -- the 1988 European Cup.  It is planned that the gymnasts with the best results in the series of the more prestigious international matches (from November to May) will take part in its finals.  The choice of the tournaments will be made on the basis of proposals of national federations.  The MN Prize may well be one of them."

"What did amaze me were the spectators," European champion Daniela Silivas admitted.  "One could easily imagine them rooting for Shushunova and Pryakhina and wished them to win.  But they were just as loud for me -- their main rival.  The audience applauded the successful performance by each girl and each of us felt the spectators' support.  People kept asking me: what helped me win?  I think it was the desire to win, the years of training and also the splendid hall and the very friendly atmosphere that prevailed, which urged one to go all out.  And I set myself the task -- now or never!"

"Actions speak louder than words," said John Atkinson, technical director of the British Amateur Gymnastics Association, "and I have already lost count of how many times I've been to the USSR.  I am always pleased to come, I eagerly look forward to meeting friends.  Your Gymnastics Federation is helping us by sharing know-how, sending coaches and providing opportunities to perform at the competitions in your country."

"It would not be an exaggeration to say that we witnessed a fantastic championship in its boiling passion and the opportunity to see the best there is in European gymnastics today.  However, capitalizing on the rights of a person who no longer feels a visitor in your country, I'd like to draw attention to one sad fact.  Very many coaches, experts and gymnastics fans from various countries would have liked very much to attend a championship such as this one.  But there was no information, at least in our country, on how to come as a tourist to Moscow with a guarantee of seeing the championship.  I think the sponsors didn't give due attention to this question.  I have a lot of friends at home who'd love to come to the championship."

"As for the competition as such, I think Lyukin and Silivas won thanks to the stability of their performance.  I like very much your Korolyov, twice world champion.  But, apparently, he has been born to become champion of the world and not Europe."

"My debut in adult gymnastics took place at the 1979 MN Prize," said Jean-Luc Cairon, a French gymnast.  "I later came to Moscow for the 1981 world championship.  Now I'm again in this city.  It has changed, become prettier.  What did not change is the Muscovites' cheerfulness and hospitality."

"In 1985 I was 15th overall at the MN Prize," said Laura Muñoz, a Spanish gymnast.  "This time round I have managed to make the top ten best girl gymnasts of Europe and managed to qualify for the finals.  Therefore, I'm happy to be making progress and grateful to the spectators who gave me a rousing welcome.  As last time, I'm leaving your city sad that the gymnastics festival is over and full of hopes for a new meeting in Moscow."

This page was created on March 31, 2001.
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