Miss Kim Captures Laurels

By Dan Hulbert

New York Times, December 9, 1979   Nellie Kim of the Soviet Union won the women's all-around title tonight by pitting her classic, uncluttered style against the difficult moves of her younger rivals in the world gymnastics championships.

Miss Kim, a striking 21-year-old who rose to prominence in the shadow of Olga Korbut at the 1972 Olympics, amassed 78.65 points tonight, narrowly beating the diminutive Maxi Gnauck of East Germany, who scored 78.37.  Miss Kim showed uncanny consistency by scoring 9.85 in all four events.

The American women, after finishing a disappointing sixth as a team, failed to place anyone in the top 10, but redeemed themselves individually by moving up strongly in the rankings tonight.  Sixteen-year-old Leslie Pyfer of Eugene, Ore., went from 24th to 12th place to lead the Americans.

Two famous faces were conspicuously absent from the meet.  Nadia Comaneci, who entered the compulsories favored to win and was leading as of Wednesday, withdrew because of an infected left hand and was reported sleeping comfortably after surgery this evening.

Rhonda Schwandt, the top all-around American women going into the meet, became ill and was replaced by Suzy Kellems, who, according to Linda Metheny, the women's team coach, "was the only girl who lived up to her potential," in the compulsories and optionals.  Miss Kellems came off the bench to become the second-highest American woman, with 75.97 points.

Marcia Frederick was a major disappointment in the earlier competition, but the 16-year-old Milford, Conn., resident made a dramatic comeback in the all-around, showing some of the promise she displayed at last year's world championship, when she won America's first gold medal in an individual event.  Since she was ranked 36th going into the all-around she could not hope for a medal, but she redeemed herself tonight by correcting her two major problems, tumbling altitude and control on the beam, to move up to 23rd place, with 75.75 points.

Miss Kim's victory was particularly remarkable in that it reversed the sweeping trend toward extreme difficulty in gymnastics that started with Miss Korbut.  For instance, Miss Kim's dismount from beam was one of the meet's most fundamental moves, a simple back gainer.

In her floor exercise routine, she has added no new degrees of difficulty since her 1972 performance.  As a measure of the rocketing pace of women's gymnastics, nearly every woman tonight performed a double back somersault on the floor, a move that Miss Kim pioneered for women seven years ago and which remains her most difficult move in that event.

But the dark-eyed gymnast has added maturity, poise, and extraordinary grace that recalls the style of the other Soviet champion, Ludmila Turischeva, who dominated women's gymnastics for many years until the arrival of Miss Comaneci.

The Rumanians, who captured the team title Thursday, even without the services of Miss Comaneci, placed all of their women relatively high in the all-around but none higher than third.  That gymnast was Melita Ruhn with 78.35 points.

Asked how she believed she would have fared had she been forced to contend with Miss Comaneci, Miss Kim said, "I was very sorry to hear about Nadia's injury.  I would have loved to compete against her throughout.  I thought we had equal chances and I would like to have seen how we came out."


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