Champion in Pigtails
By Vladimir Golubev
Soviet Life, April 1978 Top-ranking gymnasts seem to be getting younger all the time. The most recent proof is Maria Filatova, a schoolgirl from the town of Leninsk-Kuznetsky in Siberia.
Eight years ago Olga Korbut took part in her first senior national championship at the Sports Palace in Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia. The youngest and smallest of the contestants, Olga captured the audience with her stunning combinations. Six years later, in 1976, 14-year-old Maria Filatova, a schoolgirl from the town on Leninsk-Kuznetsky in Siberia, gave fans the same kind of eye-opening performance at the national championships in Tbilisi. Maria's combinations were even more difficult and risky than Olga's had been.
Trainers never seem to stop scouting for material to mold into the ideal sports star. Innokenti Mametyev has done his searching. It's no simple matter, he will tell you, to find a new Lyudmila Turishcheva or Olga Korbut. Mametyev spotted Maria Filatova among the 800 girl gymnasts from the children's sport school in Leninsky-Kuznetsky. Today she is the hope of not only her trainer, but also Soviet gymnastics.
"Maria is her own person, she's tough," Mametyev likes to say. "It's hard, but it's very interesting to work with a girl like her. She is an incredibly daring and smart girl, with strong views of her own. She often changes my mind."
"She's very proud, too. Once Larissa Latynina, the senior coach, criticized her sharply for making too many mistakes on the asymmetrical bars. Everybody heard it, including the champions, and Masha was very upset. I thought that the workout was ruined. But Galina Savarina, the choreographer, got Maria wound up, and they started examining the exercise piece by piece. This put Maria in good spirits again and she worked hard."
The coaches included her in the national Olympic team in 1976 as a reserve participant. When the final tryout was held in the enormous indoor stadium of the Forum several days before the beginning of the tournament in Montreal, the crowd applauded every combination of this small gymnast. The next day all the newspapers ran her photo. She was included in the Olympic squad.
Having completed the freestyle program on July 19, the second day of the gymnastics tournament, the Soviet women gymnasts won top team honors. On that day Maria Filatova, the youngest member of the Soviet delegation, was 15.
She was the first to perform for the Soviet team, and she made a very good showing on the asymmetrical bars, crowning her combination with a stunning takeoff. On her birthday she was awarded an Olympic gold medal in the team classification, her first victory in the international arena.
That was a little more than a year ago. Since then Filatova has become a recognized leader among the Soviet gymnasts with her major win in the 1977 World Cup competition in Ovideo, Spain.
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