Michael Nikolay -- A Name that Guarantees Top Quality

Sports in the GDR    The world apparatus gymnastics championships took place in Moscow's Olympic Hall on the Prospekt Mira from 22nd to 29th November 1981.  The host country won both the men's and women's team events and also accounted for the overall individual winners, the newcomers to world championships, 15-year-old Olga Bicherova and 19-year-old Yuri Korolyov.  The most successful gymnast of the event, winning three titles, was Olympic champion Maxi Gnauck of the GDR.

At the beginning many of the spectators in Moscow's Olympic Hall believed there must be a mistake:  a dark-haired slim young man by the name of Nikolay obviously had a much bigger program to perform than any of the other gymnasts.  His name was called time and again.  The name of Nikolay was entered in the lists of competitors for a total of 42 times.  During the individual combined competition it seemed as though a stuntman was doubling up for Nikolay when he competed on the rings and the horizontal bar at the same time...  The confusion was caused by the twins from the GDR, Michael and Jurgen Nikolay.

The name of Nikolay has had a good ring in men's gymnastics for several years.  It has become a byword for elegant and difficult exercises, especially on the pommel horse.  Michael Nikolay often rivaled with an outstanding gymnast in this event, the Hungarian Zoltan Magyar, who set top world standards.  Michael tried to follow in his footsteps, developing further the "flying straddles" introduced by Magyar, which are now part of the repertoire of every world class gymnast on this apparatus.  Michael placed third in the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games and was the 1977 vice-European champion.  By then aged 25, the experienced gymnast from the GDR set his sights on winning the pommel horse event in Moscow so as to become the successor to Zoltan Magyar.  His twin brother Jurgen was a novice to the national team at this important event.

In Moscow the twin brothers soon became the spectators' favorites.  Although both displayed a high standard, Michael naturally was the more successful of them.  The exciting final competition on the pommel horse ranked among the highlights of the entire world championships, although all events were marked by a high standard through and through.  Three gymnasts -- Koji Gushiken (Japan), Li Xiaoping (PR China) and Michael Nikolay -- entered the final with the same number of 9.900 points to their credit, two other followed only 0.025 points behind.  The competition began.  The first to compete, the Hungarian Gyorgy Guczoghy, was awarded 10 points, bringing his aggregate to 19.75 points.

Then the combined world champion Yuri Korolyov of the Soviet Union, who entered the competition with the same previous score, also received 10 points to draw equal with Guczoghy.  Only Koji Gushiken lost nerves in this tense situation and all chances of winning a medal.  When Li Xiaoping, too, gained 10 points, bringing his total up to 19.900, the only chance for Michael Nikolay to win the world title was to score 10 points as well.  All spectators in the hall held their breath -- and Michael performed the exercise of his life.  Enthusiastic applause rewarded his flying straddles.  When the scoreboard showed 10 points for his exercise, enthusiasm swept the hall.  He had managed it.  He shared the world title with the Chinese, Li Xiaoping.  Michael proved to be not only good at that specific apparatus.  He was the only one to have qualified for five apparatus finals, and consequently the most flexible of all gymnasts, he had to compete 23 times during the world championships -- proof also of his excellent physical condition.

His brother Jurgen -- equally elegant as a gymnast -- turned out a pillar of the team.  Ranking 14th in the free exercise and sixth on the parallel bars, he attracted special attention for his extremely difficult program at the horizontal bar, his favorite event.

The career of the twin brothers is similar to that of many GDR athletes.  Klaude Borde of TSC Berlin who coached them first was among the spectators in Moscow.  "I have known them since they were ten years old," he remembers.  "They had practiced gymnastics in after-school training sessions in their school sports club in Berlin-Pankow.  They were talented and diligent.  My only problem was that they were alike as two peas.  But as time went by I learned to distinguish them, Michael is calmer, an excellent competitor.  Jurgen is more vivacious and actually an equally good gymnast, but he had some bad luck in the past.  Both of them are full of fighting spirit and will never give up once they have set their sights on a target.  What I also like in them is their team spirit.  And judging by the results of the last world championships, I can predict a great future in sport for both of them."

Michael and Jurgen come from a working-class family in Berlin.  Their father Wolfgang is a carpenter, and their mother Anita works in the Museum for German History.  Their brother Dirk is 19 years old and currently doing his term of conscription to the armed forces, while the youngest child, 11-year-old Simone, collects all newspaper cuttings reporting about her brothers.  Jurgen has been married for a year, his wife Ulla works in a department store in Berlin.  Jurgen studies sport at the German College for Physical Culture in Leipzig, while Michael is a photo-technical assistant.

Nikolay -- this name has had a good ring in the gymnastics world in recent years.  Since the 1981 Moscow world championships it is a double guarantee for top quality.

This page was created on December 8, 2001.
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