15-Year-Old Girl Hailed in Soviet

By Theodore Shabad

New York Times, December 17, 1964   The victory of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in the Soviet Union's all-round gymnastic championship last weekend is being held up in the Soviet press as an example to be followed in training a new generation of gymnasts.

Larissa Petrik, a ninth-grader from the town of Vitebsk in Byelorussia, upset 30-year-old Larissa Latynina, an Olympic champion in the Melbourne and Rome games.

The result was close as Miss Petrik accumulated 37.55 points in combined exercises, only five-hundredths of a point ahead of the old champion.

Some Soviet sports writers, commenting on the three-day championship in Kiev, said the judges had been generous in scoring for the newcomer; others said she had been "lucky."

But whatever the circumstances, the Soviet Union had its youngest champion ever in a sport in which the Russians had been traditionally strong until the Tokyo games.  There, the Soviet supremacy was successfully challenged by Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia, who won the all-round crown and two other events.  Miss Latynina was limited to a gold medal in the free-standing exercises.

The poor showing of Soviet athletes in track and field, gave rise to much soul-searching after the Tokyo games.

Miss Petrik's triumph was all the more remarkable in that she was still in a junior class.  Never before had a gymnastic championship been won by a contender who did not have the title of Master of Sports, bestowed for excellence in any give event.

The national championship was the third major competition won by the Byelorussian girl this year.  She started off by winning a zonal school children's contest and went on to take first place in the Byelorussian championship, where she was helped by the absence of a leading contender.

Miss Petrik took up gymnastics five years ago when she switched from a dance class as an extra-curricular school activity.

Her dance background has enabled her to gain consistently high scores in the free-floor exercises that are a part of the all-round scoring.

A modest, freckled girl, Larissa likes Russian literature, English and mathematics in school.  In addition to her gymnastic training five days a week, she skis and skates in the winter.

For the last four years, she has been trained by Vikenty Dmitriev, the director of the sports school in which she was enrolled by her father -- a Soviet Army officer.  Her mother is a saleswoman in a Vitebsk clothing store.

Larissa is a member of the Young Dynamo sports club in Vitebsk and participated in the Kiev championship under the colors of the National Dynamo Sports Society.  Like many Soviet schoolgirls, she still wears a white bow in her hair.  But that did not keep her from somersaulting to the top in the Soviet world of gymnastics.

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