Magnificent Gymnastics Festival in Varna

By Ernst Podeswa

Sports in the GDR    With a participation of 313 gymnasts from 32 countries, the Eighteenth World Gymnastics Championships 1974 held in the modern palace of sport and culture at Varna had set a record even  before they began.  Todor Zhivkov, First Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party and Chairman of the State Council of the People's Republic of Bulgaria, himself welcomed the guests stressing during the festive opening ceremony: 

"I hope you have seen once more with your own eyes our beautiful Black Sea resort of Varna deserves to host the Eighteenth World Championships of one of the most graceful sports.  I am positive that these world championships will enrich gymnastics and lead it to a new height and that the championships will also be an impressive demonstration of the striving of world youth for friendship, understanding and cooperation, to all-round physical and intellectual development in an atmosphere of lasting peace throughout the world."

The days that followed confirmed these words impressively.  The success of these splendid world gymnastics championships in Varna was due partly to the fact that the progressive forces in international gymnastics had won through against the South African apartheid policy and its supporters.  The gymnasts felt at home in the comfortable hotels on the "Golden Sands" which every year attract millions of tourists.  The organizers of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Association provided excellent conditions for the competition and surrounded their guests with world-famous Bulgarian hospitality.  The Bulgarian population showed such an interest in the world championships that the new sports palace soon proved to be too small -- all corridors, and even the stairs were crowded by sports fans wanting to see for themselves the world gymnastics elite and awarding their performances generous applause.  This is a fact worth mentioning, because certain circles of the International Gymnastics Federation had previously intrigued against Varna as the venue for the championships.  However, the decision taken by the FIG Extraordinary Congress, to retain Varna as the venue, has turned out correct.  Varna held a magnificent gymnastics festival.  Its enthusiastic atmosphere inspired gymnasts from throughout the world to give their best in this traditional sport.

With Risks, Originality, Virtuosity

The 1968 and 1972 Olympic champion from Japan, Sawao Kato, admitted at a press conference after the die had been cast in the teams rating:  "I feared very much for the victory..."  His early withdrawal after a flip on the horizontal bar had reduced the Japanese team and obliged the other five members to perform the next five exercises without flaws.  After they mastered the pommel horse fairly well, which is not one of their favorite apparatuses, the concerned faces of Sawao Kato and trainer Yukio Endo brightened.  But their lead over the impressive performance of the Soviet team was reduced to four points, as compared to seven during the Olympic Games.  In the individual rating, too, Nikolai Andrianov (USSR) took the silver medal instead of the Japanese team which had still taken all the medals at Munich.  There can be no doubt about it:  Europe's leading gymnasts -- chiefly those from the socialist countries -- have narrowed the gap separating them from the Japanese gymnasts.

"The Japanese are technically so perfect that they can hardly be beaten if we have similar or only slightly smaller difficulties in our program.  This is possible only if we receive additional tenths of a point for risk, originality of virtuosity," told us Wolfgang Thune (GDR), vice-world champion on the horizontal bar and seventh in the overall individual rating.  The international rating provisions for men's gymnastics preserve, in fact, 0.3 points for the overall free-exercise rating and even 0.6 points in the apparatus finals for risk, originality and virtuousity.  Nikolai Andrianov who was placed on one level with world champion Kasamatsu for his super-difficult exercise by Swiss trainer Jack Gunthard, when asked for the reasons why he chose intentionally such difficult elements, explained:  "...the tenths of a point awarded for these three factors appeal to me."

One must say that the entire Soviet team has made the most obvious progress since 1972 regarding the readiness to take a risk.  Surprising is the maturity of young gymnasts, such as Marchenko, Shamugia and Safronov.  What they showed is possible only on an excellent technical basis.

The GDR gymnasts have also creatively developed their exercises.  The best example for this is Bernd Jager who has reached international top standard in the content of his exercises on the horizontal bar -- free salto with return to the bar --, the parallel bars and the rings.  What he lacks is reliability.  Wolfgang Thune, an absolutely virtuous gymnast, was not able to show the desirable growth in difficulty due to prolonged illness.  He qualified, nevertheless, for four apparatus finals.  The Hungarians presented their much-noted new position to the pommel horse, the Rumanian gymnasts showed a high standard, in particular, on the rings.  At the 1976 Olympic Games, gymnastics will be marked by completely new standards.

With Enthusiasm and Imagination

The Eighteenth World Gymnastics Championships was held at the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Varna in October 1974.  We talked to gymnasts from five continents, and here is what they told us:  Unni Holmen (22 years old), five time Norwegian champion, 74th at Varna:  "I have taken part in the world and European championships in Landskrona, Ljubljana, Minsk, London and Munich, but I must say that here in Varna I saw the highest standard.  Now I definitely want to take part also in the 1975 European championships at home in Skien."

Helmut Gablinger, assistant trainer of the Australian team:  "We will take along much inspiration which will help us.  We have no full-time trainers in Australia and can meet only two or three times a year, due to the long distances.  Thus, we were happy to welcome a Soviet team this year."

Chief trainer Larissa Latynina (USSR):  "We are satisfied.  Our girls were even more successful than at Munich and have, in our opinion, demonstrated the grace of women's gymnastics."

Joan Rice, 20 years old (USA), 18th place:  "My placing is the best since 1970.  I will retire, nevertheless, and as a trainer pass on to young girls what I've seen here and at other places.  Ludmilla Turischeva's new floor exercise was fantastic."

Heina Brauer, pianist for the GDR girls:  "Ludmilla surprised us with a breathtaking floor exercise to boogie variations. This was something completely new, and performed in a masterly manner."

Ella Widmer (Switzerland), 72nd place:  "The girls from the USSR and the GDR showed the gymnastics style of the future, difficult and yet elegant."

Abdolah Rassouli (Iran), judge:  "This time we've brought along only two gymnasts to our world championships premiere.  Next time we will be sending boys and girls.  Friendly contacts with the Soviet gymnasts -- Mikaelyan, for instance, has visited us already three times -- help us in our development."

Jack Gunthard (Switzerland):  "The Hungarians made a very strong impression on us and will be working their way up to the GDR standard."

Yukio Endo, Japanese chief trainer:  "Our newcomer Kajiyama, with his fourth place and two individual medals, fared better than we could hope for.  He is a man for 1976 or 1978."

Siegfried Fischer, member of the gymnastics section of the Brazilian Sports Federation:  "The support of the USSR and the GDR has made our start in Varna possible.  It will spark off new impulses for the development of gymnastics in Brazil.  The hosts in Varna have created good conditions with enthusiasm, imagination and great effort."

Worldwide Upswing

After the event we asked Alex Lylo (Czechoslovakia), Vice President of the Technical Commission in the International Gymnastics Federation, for his assessment of the world championships.  He said:  "Previously certain circles had had reservations against holding the world championships in Varna.  These were unfounded.  We have experienced worthy world championships, which were organized by hosts, eager to satisfy the athletes from five continents.  In this, they succeeded."

What do you say concerning the actual championships?  "Varna illustrated a worldwide upswing in gymnastics.  The representatives of smaller associations, too, showed exercises which could only be achieved through intensive training.  In Varna, the victories were shared out among six associations -- in Munich in 1972 they numbered only three.  This will certainly give new impetus.  We are pleased that four socialist countries were among them.  I would say that the distribution of medals was all right, although it will always present a problem how to assess the performances according to risk, originality and virtuosity.  I want to stress, at any rate, that the times have passed when one could forecast the medal winners more or less safely.  In the men's team rating there was so little difference between the fourth to tenth places that flaws by more than one gymnast let the whole team fall back several places."

Would you please mention the most important events in 1975?  "In May/June there will be the women's European championships in Skien (Norway) and the men's in Berne (Switzerland).  A world cup will be contested for the first time in Brazil in the autumn, in which the first twelve in the individual rating at Varna will take part."

This page was created on May 5, 2002.
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