Archive for the ‘The Good Ol’ Days’ Category

Unsung Heroes: Tatiana Groshkova & Aleftina Priakhina

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

For every Boginskaya and Shushunova out there winning World and Olympic medals, there was another talented gymnast toiling away the Soviet Union. With only 6 spots up for grabs each year, many excellent gymnasts never had a chance to display their skills on the world stage as a result of the extreme depth on the Soviet team in the 1980s. If given half a chance they, too, could have earned accolades and changed the history of the sport.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992, many gymnasts who would have formerly been on the bubble were able to compete for their respective republics at the World Championships the following year. Interesting gymnasts such as Lyudmila Stovbchataya (UKR), the Yulia Yurkina (BLR) and Irina Yevdokimova (KAZ) were some of the 18 ex-Soviet female gymnasts competing in Birmingham.

Here are some of the top-notch performers who sadly never wore the Soviet flag at a World Championships or an Olympic Games:


1990 USA vs USSR, Balance Beam

The press handstand mount, the full-twisting back, the sideways backhandspring to Yurchenko loop, a full-in dismount, the flower leo and yarn…what more can a gym fan ask for?!

1989 Chunichi Cup, Floor Exercise

Don’t miss the double full-in first pass! She and Alexis Brion remain the only ladies to ever compete this skill.


1986 Chunichi Cup, Floor Exercise

Although the skill bears the name of Daniela Silivas (ROM) in the Code of Points, Priakhina was in fact the first gymnast to perform the double-double on floor.

1987 USSR Display, Uneven Bars

Check out how close together the bars are set!


1988 Chunichi Cup

1988 USSR vs CHN, UNeven Bars


1986 Kraft Invitational, Floor Exercise

My favourite floor routine of all time!


1990 Dutch Open, Floor Exercise

1990 Dutch Open, Uneven Bars


1985 Medico Cup, Floor Exercise

Barutyan, owner of a fantastic planche on beam, was rumoured to be training a double layout dismount of that apparatus!

Which other amazing gymnasts do you think could have won titles and been stars if given a chance to compete at a Worlds or Olympics?

A New Cause for Dawes

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

In the 1990s, Dominique Dawes captured the attention of gymnastics fans around the world with many fantastic skills: a Hindorff on bars, three consecutive layouts on beam, two flip-flops to a full-in dismount, and back-to-back tumbling on floor. Though her lengthy competitive career spanned three Olympic Games and five World Championships, Dominique’s most successful competition was undoubtedly the 1994 U.S. Championships where she won all five available gold medals (Shannon Miller won all five silver medals, leaving only the bronze medals for all the other gymnasts!). Coached by Kelli Hill in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Dominique was the first Hill’s Angel to achieve national prominence.

“Awesome Dawesome” was on target to win all-around medals at the 1993 and 1994 World Championships and at the 1996 Olympic Games, but untimely fluke falls from this consistent gymnast prevented her from reaching the top of the record books. In 1996 Dominique was part of the Magnificent Seven that claimed gold in the team event in Atlanta.

In the years that followed, Dominique toured around the States with her Olympic teammates and then played the role of Patty Simcox in the Broadway version of Grease. The gym was calling, however, and Dominique regained top form in time for the 1998 Goodwill Games. She retired for good after helping her team to a fourth place finish at the 2000 Olympic Games.

Dominique’s most recent accomplishment was her induction into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, alongside other legends in the sport: the late Viktor Chukarin, Octavian Bellu, Elvira Saadi and Vitaly Scherbo. These days, Dominique puts her talents to use as a motivational speaker encouraging young people to live healthy and active lives. Organizations Dominique has worked with include the Girl Scouts, YMCA and YWCA, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) (International GYMNAST, July/August 2009).

Check out Dominique’s routines from each of the four events:

Vault, 1996 U.S. National Championships

Uneven Bars, 2000 Olympic Games

Balance Beam, 1996 Olympic Games

Floor Exercise, 1993 Hilton Challenge

Raise the Bar

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Vault isn’t the only culprit when it comes to equipment problems (see “The Faulty Vault”). There have been quite a few incidents on uneven bars in which a cable has snapped during a routine and the entire apparatus has collapsed. Fortunately in all three cases I found, no one was injured…just a little bit shaken up!

Ludmilla Tourischeva’s fall is perhaps the best known case of such an occurrence. During the 1975 World Cup, the bars fell just as the Soviet gymnast completed her routine. It didn’t seem to faze her in the slightest, and she ended up winning the event.

Natalie Foley, an NCAA gymnast who competed for Stanford, pulled the cables loose as she prepared

for a Shaposhnikova a few years ago.

An equipment failure happened again just last year, this time to Naoual Ouazzani Chahdi, a junior gymnast competing in the 2008 Dutch Trials for the upcoming European Championships.

When the bars are set properly, however, this event can be beautiful one. Feast your eyes upon the next video, and watch how the apparatus has changed throughout the years. The uneven bars started out as men’s parallel bars, with one bar set higher than the other. Note how the wooden oval-shaped bars extend beyond the posts! As years go by, the bars become rounder and more flexible, and they are set further apart as the gymnasts’ skill levels increase. The elements performed on the event have changed drastically, and some of the composition from past decades make me chuckle (0:20).

Uneven Bars Developments (1950s to 2005)

No mention of the uneven bars would be complete without a shout out to the most decorated champion of all time, “The Queen,” Russian Svetlana Khorkina. She managed to win two uneven bars titles at the Olympic Games, five at the World Championships and six at the European Championships.

What are your favourite skills or routines of all time? Please post a Comment!

Olga Mostepanova Plays Second Fiddle

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Three years ago on Christmas Eve, the mysterious black-and-white videos of the 1984 Friendship Games in Olomouc were suddenly unveiled. Indeed, there had been question as to whether or not footage of this competition actually existed, and discussions surrounding its whereabouts frequently popped up on gymnastics message boards.

Gymnasts from behind the Iron Curtain gathered in the Czechoslovakian city as an alternative to the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. One notable exception was the Romanian team, which chose to compete in Los Angeles, but other strong teams such as the Soviets, East Germans, Czechoslovakians and Hungarians showed up in Olomouc to compete for medals.

Olga Mostepanova of the Soviet Union was the class of the women’s field in Olomouc, making history with her unbeatable score of 40.00! This is the first and only time a gymnast has achieved true perfection across all four events. Though there were still some memorable performances in Los Angeles, the Soviets’ winning combination of artistry and athleticism was sorely missed. Despite having the competition of her life to take the gold medal, Mary Lou Retton would not be the household name she is today had these Olympic Games been fully attended.

As you watch the first clip, take note of Mostepanova’s extension and amplitude. Her opening sequence is as difficult as any performed today, and though the skill at 0:14 is credited to Henrietta Onodi in the Code of Points, Mostepanova was in fact the first to perform this Arabian handspring in international competition. (Even Onodi herself refers to the “Onodi” as a “Mostepanova”!)

Olga Mostepanova, 1984 Friendship Games, Balance Beam

Irina Baraksanova, also representing the Soviet Union at the Friendship Games, displayed some exquisite floor work. Her team won the gold medal with a total of 395.25 out of a possible 400.00 points.

Irina Baraksanova, 1984 Friendship Games, Floor Exercise

The long lines of the Eastern bloc gymnasts stand in stark contrast to the powerful performances of Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton. She was able to take advantage of the home crowd and the absence of many top gymnasts in order to secure the title.

Mary Lou Retton, 1984 Olympic Games, Balance Beam

Though true fans of gymnastics are undoubtedly thrilled that the rare footage of the Friendship Games has been released two decades later, one can’t help but wonder how the Olympic medal tallies would be different had all the countries of the world participated. It would have been nice for the Soviet, East German, Czechoslovakian and Hungarian gymnasts to showcase their talent on the biggest of world stages, and to have their efforts appreciated on a global scale.