Lyukin and Shushunova: New Overall Champs
in the Recent National Gymnastics Tournament

By Anatoly Ivanov

Moscow News, No. 18, 1987   In gymnastics, as in figure skating and other technically demanding sports, there seems to have been no room until recently for surprise wins by newcomers of national teams.  It usually takes a relatively long time before a gymnast is recognized by the judges.  The just ended 53rd USSR championships has proved that this is not always the case.  In addition to producing two new champions these contests have brought to the fore several new names.

Valery Lyukin of Alma-Ata is 20.  He made it to the national team in 1986, and that September was placed 4th in the combined events during the Spartakiade of Soviet Nations.  This March Valery won Moscow News' main prize.  Three weeks after he beat his most titled rivals to become the national champion.  His rivals, though, did not include Yuri Korolyov, twice world champion, who was attending the 20th Komsomol Congress held during the championships.  Placed second was the experienced Valentin Mogilny, while 18-year-old Gennady Zadorozhny of Voroshilovgrad came third rather unexpectedly.  Head of the gymnastics department of the USSR State Committee for Sports Leonid Arkaev (who has taken over from Yuri Titov, now the executive secretary of the Soviet NOC) described Gennady as a major sensation.

I remember the fans gasping at Lyukin's triple somersault in the floor exercises for the Moscow News prize.  In Chelyabinsk (the championship was held in this city, not in Kharkov as we previously reported) this mindboggling feat had already been performed by Vardan Sarkisyan and Yuri Porplenko.  How rapidly gymnastics progress!

At long last...  This is an appropriate reaction to the victory in the combined events by Leningrader Elena Shushunova.  While she had won the gold in the world and European overall competitions, world and USSR cups, she somehow could not win the national title.

Last year's overall champion was Svetlana Baitova of Mogilev.  Some were skeptical about her achievement in the absence of major rivals like Shushunova.  This time all her rivals were on hand in Chelyabinsk and Svetlana was placed second in the three-day contest, proving that her success of last year was not accidental.  Another surprise was Alevtina Pryakhina, 13, of Moscow, who was placed third after a display of exceptionally complex routines.

The new names, more complex routines and close rivalry were some of the encouraging features of the championships in view of the growing standards at major international tournaments and before the coming European championship in Moscow in the second half of May.

Unfortunately, what all reporters described as an exceptionally exciting contest took place before almost empty grandstands.  The stadium seating 3,500 was filled to capacity on only one occasion.  Boosting attendance at such major events still remains a problem, pending solution.


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