Favorite Gymnast at the Age of Eleven

By Werner Turke

Sports in the GDR, 1/74   The one and the other of the world, European and Olympic champions of the future, may be seen at the traditional junior tournaments held every year in an alternate socialist country.  Outstanding gymnasts who have since won international reputations made their debuts at these junior competitions, which took place for the first time in the GDR district capital of Erfurt in 1965.  Such stars include, for instance, Karin Janz and Natalia Kuchinskaya, as well as Mikhail Voronin and Nikolai Andrianov.

In August 1973, the GDR was again host to this traditional event, when the best boy and girl gymnasts from the nine socialist countries assembled in the district capital of Gera.  During the three days of the tournament, the 11- to 18-year-olds performed free exercises which could very well rival those performed by the world elite at international contests.

A real surprise at this Gera tournament was caused by a dainty little girl, just eleven years old, Nadia Comaneci from Rumania who won the spectators' sympathies from the start.  In the vault, for instance, she performed the Tsukahara, a sideways handspring with back somersault which, until recently, was only ever executed by the men.  She performed it so safely, precisely and perfectly in its various phases that she was awarded the highest mark of the day, 9.80 points.  However, she also proved her talent on the other apparatus.  Her exercise on the asymmetric bars, including a salto between the bars and her flying somersault with full body twist from the upper bar recalled the skill of 1972 Olympic champion Karin Janz.  Nadia Comaneci's outstanding performance paid dividends, for she was winner of the combined event.  The Soviet girls who, as in previous years, took the team title, were also warmly applauded for their top-standard exercises.  There was Nelli Kim, a young gymnast from Chimkent, who took second place in the combined events rating, and who was performing an attractive floor exercise which demonstrated an excellent combination of gymnastics and acrobatics; there was Sveta Grozdova, whose original beam exercise exceeded what has usually been seen on this apparatus so far; and there was Kerstin Gerschau making a name for herself by winning the silver medal for the GDR in the team rating.

As in the girls' event, difficult exercises were trumps, too, with the boys.  Here, we saw an unexpected success by the two GDR teams, which took both the first and second places in the team rating, ahead of the Soviet Union.  18-year-old Bernd Jensch presented himself as an elegant gymnast with the courage to take risks.  He was awarded 9.80 points for his vault -- a handspring somersault with forward salto.  The difficulties experienced in this vault by many gymnasts before him seemed to have no effect on Bernd Jensch -- he landed safely.  This gymnast, who won six silver medals and one bronze at the 1972 GDR Central Spartakiad, also earned justified applause for his floor exercise.  He began by executing two extremely difficult elements: a double salto and a double twist.  He subsequently placed first in the combined events rating, followed by his teammate Uwe Ronneburg, with Soviet gymnast Alexander Dityatin third.

The young gymnasts form the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, Cuba, the Korean People's Democratic Republic and the GDR had prepared themselves well for this annual highlight of junior gymnastics in the socialist world.  By their performances they proved that promising gymnastic talent exists in the socialist countries, from Latin America to Asia.  The progress achieved by the gymnasts from socialist Cuba was particularly striking, especially in the floor exercise, where their difficult acrobatic elements time and again drew ovations from the audience. The Olympic champions of the future made one thing clear: Whoever chooses to perform difficult exercises must put all his diligence into acquiring a high degree of stability and safety.  The selection of a vault, for instance, involving a handspring with whole body-turn or a handspring with salto, is only half a success.  A safe landing is the other.  A good combination of both is what matters, and that it is possible was demonstrated by many of the gymnasts at the Gera tournament.

The high sporting level was not the only factor making the 1973 junior competitions a complete success.  Close friendship and fraternity between the gymnasts from the socialist countries prevailed.  Many friendly meetings and exchanges of experiences between gymnasts and coaches took place during the week.

During the world championships in Bulgaria in 1974, we will certainly re-encounter many of those who had attracted attention in Gera in the previous year -- names such a Nelli Kim or Nadia Comaneci, Bernd Jensch or Alexander Dityatin.  We don't know yet for certain, but we can say now that the 1973 junior friendship gymnastics competition gave a great impetus to international gymnastics.

This page was created on August 8, 2001.
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