19,000 Go Wild Over Olga

By Gerald Eskenazi

New York Times, Nov. 16, 1974   With the squeals of delight another generation reserved for Judy Garland, a predominantly pre-teen-age crowd of 19,000 welcomed Olga Korbut back to Madison Square Garden last night.

It was probably the largest turnout for a gymnastic event in the United States.  Although most of the Soviet Union's national team also was present, Miss Korbut, the Byelorussian bombshell, was the attraction.

The fact that she is her country's second-best woman gymnast matters not at all to her following.  Number One is the dour, intense Ludmila Turischeva, who is described as "emotionally and physically drained" after taking last month's world title.  She is back home.

So Miss Korbut bounced onto the Garden floor last night, her pigtails bobbing, her arms reaching to the crowd, demanding that the fans love her.  That appears to be her charm, transcending her uneven skills.

Often, her reach exceeds her grasp and she stumbles.  She became world famous, after all, not so much for her Olympic gold medals in 1972 as for the sight of her crying when she faltered.

This frantic, seven-city tour has not diminished the Soviets' zest.  Not even two hours spent yesterday at Korvette's slowed them down.

The attractions included the 41-year-old Yuri Saveliev and his wife, Galina, who are listed under the "acrobatics" section but who give a new dimension to the word.

In one routine, Saveliev holds his wife over his head -- solely by the right ankle.

And in the modern gymnastics (in which an apparatus such as a hoop or ribbon is used in a dance routine), Galina Shafrova managed to toss a hoop in the air, snare it as it returned and in the same motion twist her body through it while doing a somersault.  It was harder than it sounded, and it looked effortless.

No matter how hard anyone else worked, though, Miss Korbut was constantly in demand by the crowd.  Last year she was censured by Komsomolskaya Pravda, which is read predominantly by young people, for cultivating a cult of personality.

It doesn't seem to be her fault.  The 19-year-old bends her body backward on the 4-inch-wide balance beam, forming an arching bridge, and the crowd goes wild.

She waves after a routine and 10-year-old girls scream, "Olga, Olga."

The Soviet men often outdid the women, spurred by the "ooh's and "ah's" of a crowd that paid more than $150,000.  Viktor Klimenko threw himself outward as if her were a man jumping out of a window, and suddenly he landed on his hands just inches above the ground.

Thousands of flashcubes popped for these and other daring routings.  The Soviets were nearly perfect.  As Frank Mahovlich remarked two years ago, when the Soviets were beating Canada's best players in hockey, "Give the Russians a football and in two years they'll win the Super Bowl."

The crowd also gave a warm reception to Nikolai Andrianov, the 22-year-old Olympic champion who attempted a triple flying dismount from the high bar.  On the parallel bars, Andrianov dismounted with a perfect double flip.

The men's contingent also included Viktor Klimenko, Vladimir Marchenko, Edward Mikaelyan, Alexander Maleev and Paata Shamugia.

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