Turnen, 7/83

At the XIV European Championships for women in Goteborg's "Scandinavium," the 16-year-old Moscow schoolgirl Olga Bicherova again underlined her ability to perform well at crucial international competitions. After winning the World Cup last year (together with her teammate Natalia Yurchenko), the 1.44m and 33.5kg "gymnastics flea" scored a hat-trick this time by winning the European all-around title. The protege of CSKA coach Boris Orlov is now missing only the Olympic title to add her to the ranks of the most successful female gymnasts of all times.

"My big goal is to stand at the top of the winners podium in Los Angeles," Olga explained after her victory. "But until then I'll have to work very hard in training to fight for this title. And when I remember that besides the strong European gymnasts, there will be US and Chinese girls, I know how difficult a victory will be. And certainly Maxi Gnauck will be back by then..."

The 18-year-old woman from Berlin was the unlucky one of the Goteborg European Championships. Maxi, who won four titles in 1981 in Madrid, fell from uneven bars during the final practice and injured her elbow, so she prematurely returned to the GDR for medical treatment. The protege of Jurgen Heritz was outstanding in the training sessions, and all the experts agreed that she was capable of defending her title. And her bars routine, with three release elements, caused quite a stir.

After Maxi Gnauck's injury, everyone focused on a Soviet-Romanian duel. Both countries ended up sharing the AA medals, but not without some surprises. Olga Bicherova and Lavinia Agache both delivered balanced performances in the afternoon round. The Muscovite emerged as the leader, thanks to excellent vault and floor performances (both 9.9 points), and led by 0.05 points.

In the evening session, Natalia Yurchenko and the 1980 and 1982 junior European champion Ecaterina Szabo both had a chance to win the overall title. But both showed their nerves and messed up: Natalia on uneven bars with her super-difficult Deltchev (9.15) and Ecaterina on beam after a pirouette (9.35). Whereas the Romanian showed excellent routines on the other three apparatus to claim the bronze medal (tied with Albina Shishova), Yurchenko slid down to ninth, behind two of our girls (Astrid Heese and Sylvia Rau).

"Even the fact that only a single error was enough to cause a gymnast to lose a medal shows that the power density of the best European gymnasts is enormous," stated GDR trainer Hannelore Sauer. "Our girls are looking towards the world championships in October in Budapest and the Olympic Games next year, and are improving their routines. Some of the new, high-difficulty elements being performed are not stable enough yet, as was apparent when Yurchenko, Szabo and Stanulet fell. The cost is a few tenths of a point in the score and also a few places in the rankings."

Among those gymnasts who performed safely were the two youngest of the GDR trio, Astrid Heese and Sylvia Rau. Heese has been training for six months in Jurgen Heritz's group, and was a surprise in Goteborg. She was originally the reserve gymnast but amazed all the experts and even her coach with her optimal routines. She was only 0.45 points away from the AA podium, qualified for beam finals, and won a silver medal with a difficult and secure exercise.

"Assi," as she's called by her friends, had the fourth-highest qualifying score and landed her flick-flack double back dismount safely. But Yurchenko, Labakova, Shishova, Polerova and unfortunately Sylvia Rau all failed to keep their nerves in check and fell from the apparatus. Only Lavinia Agache, who was the only gymnast to qualify for all four finals, could beat Astrid. Sylvia Rau also came close to winning a medal on beam, but the 15-year-old Berliner, who otherwise gave a brilliant performance, fell after a layout.

Franka Voigt was the third GDR gymnast and also had a good fighting spirit, but she could not get through her difficult exercises flawlessly. The 19-year-old Frankfurter had the bad luck to be first up on beam, where she showed considerable difficulty. She was also unlucky to miss the floor finals. She had the same overall score as Hana Ricna (CSSR), but Ricna had the highest individual score in the all-around (9.85 on beam).

A total of 18,300 spectators watched the performances at the Goteborg "Scandinavium" over two days of competition. Sixty-two gymnasts from 22 countries participated, and the juniors were on the rise. Ecaterina Szabo, Boriana Stoyanova (BUL), Sylvia Rau, Hana Ricna, Anja Wilhelm (FRG) and Tunde Zsilinszky (HUN) already called attention to themselves last year at the junior European championships in Ankara. Ricna and Szabo were the only gymnasts to recieve the highest score of 10 from a judge.

These new names, along with Heese, were practically the only junior European competitors to participate here. Astrid invented a vault (piked front, half) that no one but her performs. The high point, however, was floor where both content and presentation were the best on offer. Combination tumbling runs (Szabo, Yurchenko) or choreography (Bicherova, Grancharova) demonstrated an enormous diversity among the best gymnasts. The Bulgarians showed particularly impressive progress. It's obvious that they have learned a lot from their fellow rhythmic gymnasts Ralenkova, Ignatova and Raeva, who have been world class for years.

After the competition in Goteborg, which only included optional routines, the gymnasts will train for the world championships. In six months, it will be decided in Budapest whether European women gymnasts can maintain their supremacy against competition from Asia and overseas.