Our Brave Maria

By V. Golubev

Moscow News, #11, 1978   Maria Filatova will be 17 on July 19.  She remembers almost all her birthdays, but the one she remembers best was two years ago. 

When Maria woke up on July 19, 1976, she smiled.  There were flowers on the table with a note -- "You'll get your present in the evening."

That was the final day of the women gymnasts' team competition at the Montreal Olympic Games.  The Soviet team was leading.  Lyudmila Turishcheva, Olga Korbut, Svetlana Grozdova, Elvira Saadi and Nelli Kim all put in enthusiastic performances, but the audience favorite was Maria Filatova, the youngest and tiniest in the group, who was doing some amazingly complex routines.

By the time the day was through Maria did get her birthday present -- an Olympic gold medal.  Of course, all the women received them for the team title.  But for Maria Filatova, a schoolgirl from the Siberian city of Leninsk-Kuznetsky, it was a birthday she will never forget.

Innokenty Mametyev is a very energetic coach working in Leninsk-Kuznetsky who has organized a children's sports school with an enrollment of about 800.  He and his wife Galina have trained quite a few good women gymnasts, among them Maria Filatova, Olympic team champion, overall national champion, World Cup winner and European champion in the floor exercises.

Innokenty Mametyev says about his pupil:  "I looked around for a long time for a girl who could do everything that I thought should be done.  I believe gymnastics will be getting more and more complex because it seems to be what the times demand.  My pupils Antonina Glebova and Galina Serkova were among the first in the country to do double somersaults and super-hard exercises on the asymmetrical bars and the beam.  Then Filatova came to the sports school.  She not only was able to do the new program but to do it brilliantly.

"I like Maria's character.  She's brave and a gambler.  She loves games and rivalry gets her going.  I remember when she used to bring dolls to coaching sessions and played with them in the breaks.  When she is training she always tries to find someone to compete with her in doing an exercise, 'betting' who'll do it better.  But she's a tough kid to work with because she enjoys an argument."

"At school she's a good student -- things come easily.  In gymnastics she also can do just about everything.  She trained harder than anyone else and it was tough to get her out of the gym.  I had to hurry her because I knew there were other promising up-and-comers in other cities, and I really wanted Maria to make the Olympic squad.  Her tournament performances were somewhat unstable because nerves often got the better of her.  But in the Olympic season she managed to find a place among the leaders."

Last year was Maria's best season.  In March she won the Paris Grand Prix.  The newspaper l'Equipe wrote that "Maria Filatova is a gymnastics wonder.  She breaks all records for virtuoso performance."

Early in April she won the world's largest international competition, the Moscow News Prize and then the Riga-77 Tournament.  Two weeks later she became a overall national champion.  Quite a feat!

The World Cup is a grueling test.  Our young women -- Natalia Shaposhnikova, Yelena Mukhina and Maria Filatova -- captivated the Spanish audiences, but Maria was getting more applause than the others.  Our little "mite" was putting on a flowing, inspired performance.  The tougher the situation, the more confident Maria became.  When both Shaposhnikova and Mukhina faltered, Maria showed that streak of gambler in her.  She went all out to top Steffi Kraker, the excellent gymnast from the GDR.

Audiences like Filatova, because she's kind and outgoing.   She is interested in everything -- how her rivals appraise her, what the coaches are talking about and the fan reaction.  And she's a real perpetual motion machine -- never stops.

I asked Maria which was her favorite competition.  "Of course," she said, "it was great to win the World Cup.  But I remember the Moscow News Prize better.  I felt there like it was the Olympics."

This page was created on August 8, 2001.
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