Do Favorites Always Win?

Sport in the USSR, August 1988

During the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games the Soviet athletes won 29 gold, 32 silver and 30 bronze medals.  Gymnast Natalia Kuchinskaya was among the Games' heroes.

Natalia Kuchinskaya:  I was really happy. What girls we had in the team, how doggedly we competed!  For some reason we cried a lot -- both when we received medals and made mistakes.  It was all like a fairy tale to me.  My spirits were sky-high while my heart was pounding like crazy -- did I really deserve all these honors?  Believe me, people were going nuts just to get an autograph.  Hundreds of folk singers were singing songs night after night.  I could clearly distinguish the word "Na-ta-li" in those songs.  It was very surprising then, and I couldn't believe that I, an 18-year-old girl, had bagged so many medals -- two gold, one silver and two bronze.  I am a coach now, helping girls to master highly complex elements.  I really miss "our" gymnastics of 1968 vintage, so full of lyricism, elegance and taste!

Yelena Shushunova, a student at the Leningrad Institute of Physical Education, 1985 all-round world and European champion, 1986 World Cup winner, 1987 all-round national champion and three-time winner of the USSR Cup:  No matter how much people criticize modern gymnastics for its complexity, overabundance of tricks and loss of lyricism, I can't agree with that.  The exercises have become harder to comprehend now but still I sincerely believe that we do strive for inspiration and self-expression.  Look at the diversity of the floor combinations that so vividly bring out the personality of the athlete.  Each girl -- Sveta Boginskaya from Minsk, Muscovites Yelena Gurova and Olga Chudina, Tatiana Tuzhikova of Voronezh, Riga's Natalia Laschenova, Leningrader Natalia Frolova and Svetlana Baitova from Mogilev -- looks for her own style.

One thing we know for certain is that Soviet girls have never been second best at the Olympics.  We are eager to keep this tradition alive.  During the 1988 national championships in Chelyabinsk, Zaporozhye schoolgirl Olga Strazheva, after a series of setbacks, once again surprised everyone with the stability and completeness of her routine, managing to outdo me in the overall scoring.  Muscovite Yelena Shevchenko too was lovely, playful and airy, creating charming combinations.  She is especially beautiful in the floor exercises.

Do you know whom I wish the greatest success at the Olympics?  To my best friend Oksana Omelianchik.  We were the first in the entire history of gymnastics to share the highest title of all-round world champion.  That was in 1985 in Montreal. During the following two years Oksana took a back seat to others, though she trained hard as usual but still made mistakes.  Halfway into the Olympic season, however, Oksana literally became a different person.

We girls have a healthy envy towards our men.  How self-confident they looked during the 1987 world championships!  They trounced a brilliant Chinese team, though some experts thought the Chinese were stronger.  Dmitry Bilozerchev, Yuri Korolev, Valery Lyukin and Vladimir Artemov and the foursome that is setting the trend in world gymnastics now.  No one disputes the class of these virtuoses.  I am sure that neither Sylvio Kroll of the GDR nor China's Li Ning or the Hungarian Gyorgy Guczoghy will be able to best our four: the big Olympic gold will go to any one of them.

The competition in the women's division is more intense.  Dagmar Kersten, Dorte Thummler, Martina Jentsch and Ulrike Klotz of the GDR and Aurelia Dobre and Daniela Silivas of Romania -- several equally-qualified athletes -- will square off in the individual tournament.  The outcome will now depend not on the tenths and hundredths but on thousandths of a point.  That's how close the results are today and how even the class of a whole group of gymnasts is.

This page was created on June 23, 2001.