The Perpetual Motion of Gymnastics

By Gennady Zhukovets
Molodoi Kommunist, 1975

Meters, seconds, kilograms...  In most sports these serve as the criteria of achievement.

But not in gymnastics.  There are no records.  Results are chalked up according to a point system which merely evaluates the complexity and level of performance of this or that exercise.  It is precisely complexity and mastery of execution, the introduction of new elements and the perfection of old, which is meant when one discusses the development of gymnastics.  In other words, the symbol of progress becomes the achievement of one athlete who does something hitherto unknown or thought impossible.  In time, the achievement of one inevitably becomes the property of many.  In this endless race after the leader the wonderful sport of gymnastics is perfected.

Soviet gymnastics emerged on the world arena in 1952 at the XVth Olympic Games in Helsinki.  The USSR won the team competition among both men and women, taking home 9 gold, 11 silver and 2 bronze medals.  Since then Soviet gymnasts have invariably figured among the leaders of international competitions, at whatever level.

Sports fans remember the names of Viktor Chukarin, Boris Shakhlin, Albert Azaryan, Larissa Latynina, Polina Astakhova, Mikhail Voronin, Larissa Petrik, Natasha Kuchinskaya, who at various times have been Olympic champions.  They have invented elements that have gone down in the annals of gymnastics.  Thus there is the "Azaryan element" -- the famous "cross" on the rings, the "Korbut element", the "Kuchinskaya effect", "Andrianov's landing"...

Sports gymnastics is a lively, constantly advancing type of sport at whose foundation lies the creativity of its best representatives.

So far, no other male or female gymnast can boast of so many complicated, original elements as "little Olya" (as spectators has dubbed diminutive Olga Korbut).

Her mastery of the sport has evoked heated debate.  Some consider her the last word in modern gymnastics.  Others maintain that she departs from classical gymnastics and introduces "trick" movements.  And some declare that the "Korbut element" is a health hazard for athletes.  In 1974 at a session of the International Federation of Gymnastics in Stuttgart, a decision was even taken to ban from women's competition the back somersault on the beam and the "Korbut loop" on the bars, in other words, those original elements which at the 1972 Munich Olympics brought the Soviet girl 3 gold medals.

The decision upset the world of gymnastics.  In the end the arguments asserting the danger of these elements were acknowledged to be baseless.  After all, no coach will allow a gymnast who is not ready to try Korbut's complicated back somersault on the beam, just as a green mountain climber will not receive permission to climb Mt. Everest.  One can only say that the proper training program must precede an attempt to develop a more complicated routine.

Another example.  Until recently, athletes who performed the so-called complicated leap off the bar were not able to uncoil swiftly enough and landed with bent knees.  Judges were tolerant of this shortcoming and did not penalize competitors.

However, in 1974, during the USSR championships in Rostov-on-Don, Nikolai Andrianov soared so high over the bar that he had time to uncoil and landed straight.  That was the first time in the history of world gymnastics that this had been done.

The judges were in a quandry.  If they added so many points to Andrianov's score for his success, it would exceed 10 points, not accepted in gymnastics.  The only alternative was to subtract points from the scores of his rivals, which was done.

In this way athletes not only introduce correctives into gymnastics, but also in the scoring of judges.  As for Andrianov, one year later he confirmed his high degree of mastery by winning the title of absolute European champion of Geneva.

The internal laws of the development of gymnastics are governed precisely by the constant enlargement of the arsenal at the disposal of athletes.  The birth of new, ever more complicated elements embellishes the sport, opens new avenues for man's possibilities.  This is seen in the performances of such Soviet stars of gymnastics as Ludmila Turischeva, absolute Olympic champion at Munich, twice world and European champion; Olga Korbut, Olympic and world champion; Elvira Saadi, Olympic and world champion.

A new generation of Soviet athletes, our future Olympic hopes, is already emerging.  At the European gymnastics championships in 1975, the names of Nelly Kim and Alexander Dityatin, were first heard.  Their was not a modest debut, but the performances of mature gymnasts which a wealth of original effects and styles, who thereby staked their right to take part in the Olympic-76 in Montreal.

This page was created on January 15, 2004.
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