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.