Alexander Dityatin: A Profile

By Alexei Srebnitsky

Soviet Life, October 1981  
Soviet gymnast Alexander Dityatin was the all-round champion at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.  He racked up eight medals, more than anybody else in the Games.

According to all the sports experts, not just talent and skill, but emotional stability helped Alexander to win the top Olympic laurels.

Alexander Dityatin was born into a family that has a strong work ethic.  His father is a repairman, and his mother an assembly worker.  Both have worked for years at a plant in Leningrad.

Alexander is a junior at the Leningrad Physical Culture Institute.  Someday he will probably teach physical education or coach or conduct research.  What is his choice?

"So far I haven't given it much serious thought," he says.  "I'm enjoying being a student.  For at least another year it will be school and gymnastics for me."

Asked who his favorite gymnasts are, Alexander responded, "I have two.  One is Viktor Chukarin, who performed in the late forties and early fifties.  I only know about him from films and stories from older people.  I admire his courage.  The other is Mikhail Voronin.  His every move is elegant."

Dityatin's career in gymnastics wasn't all roses.  Colleagues smiled when Anatoly Yarmovsky, a coach at a sports school for children, enrolled nine-year-old Alexander and promised to make him a champion.  The thin, ungainly boy didn't seem to have the makings of a star gymnast.  However, the young coach discerned the third grader's stick-to-itiveness and uncompromising character.

Even before he was 16, Alexander was regarded as a contender.  Then all of a sudden he grew 12 cm. in one year to reach a height of 178 cm.  Other boys would have been happy about it, but not an enthusiastic gymnast hoping to make the big time.  "He was growing fast, but his muscles remained the same," Yarmovsky recalls.  It's harder for a tall boy to perform complicated pirouettes, jumps and turns than one of medium height.  Yarmovsky continued to work with Alexander.  He turned his height into an advantage.

Yarmovsky singles out Alexander's independent thinking as one of the keys to his success.  "He doesn't take anything on trust.  He must be persuaded before trying a change in an element.  If he thinks that it doesn't fit him, you cannot dissuade him.  In such cases he usually suggests his own variant, and often it proves right."

After his brilliant Olympic victory Dityatin intended to take a little rest.  But following the Summer Games, Soviet gymnasts had a 45-day tour of Latin America.  "I missed my son Alyosha most of all," Alexander admitted once he was back home.  "During the last few weeks I just couldn't wait to play with him."  In August the Olympic champion turned 23, and his son reached the magic age of two.

Alexander and his wife Elena share many interests.  Elena also studies at a physical culture institute.  She majors in track and field.

What are the champion's hobbies?  "I'm embarrassed," he says, "but I still enjoy reading science fiction, detective stories and thrillers.  I also like fishing.  Even if nothing is biting, I can sit for hours on end with a rod and reel."

Another sport Alexander has taken up is synchronized swimming.  He is also fond of ballet and doesn't miss a new play.  At the theater he tries not to think about how a movement or a dancer on stage could be used in his floor exercises.

This page was created on April 21, 2001.
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