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Olga Korbut - Talent Shows Early

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Korbut was born in 1955 (some sources say 1956) in Grodno, on the Niemen River in the country of Belarussia, then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). Now called Belarus, the nation was a training ground for the Soviet gymnastics system, which had produced such stars as Yelena Volchetskaya, Larissa

Olga Korbut

Petrik, and Tamara Lazakovich. The youngest daughter of an engineer and a cook, Korbut was small for her age. But "she more than made up for it, in the opinion of her physical education instructor," noted Soviet Life reporter Vladimir Golubev in 1973. "Olga was good at exercises, [and] ran faster than the tall girls and many of the boys."

At age eleven the young girl qualified to enter the Soviet sports-school system (following her older sister, Ludmilla, also a master gymnast). The government-run program provides extracurricular athletic training to children who show high aptitude. Within a year Korbut was training under Renald Knysh, a top coach. It was Knysh who worked with his young charge to develop some of the groundbreaking moves that would amaze spectators years later. He recognized Korbut's strength and daring, and rehearsed her on the heretofore untried backward somersault on the balance beam. Korbut demonstrated the move at the U.S.S.R. championship meet, at which she placed fifth. Korbut's outstanding performance, however, was not without its critics, who said that her "tricks" were too dangerous to be emulated by any other gymnast.

A year after that, the rising gymnast took home a gold medal in the vault at a national meet and went on to attend her first international championship, where reserve-athlete Korbut gave a gymnastic demonstration that impressed a panel of referees. Adolescent angst caught up with Korbut briefly: "The praise went to her head, she began to put on airs, ignored her teammates and, in general, made herself objectionable," wrote Golubev. "But that was a passing phase." Injury and illness sidelined Korbut for several months, but she recovered in time to place third overall in the 1972 Soviet national championships, qualifying her for the Olympics that year.

In an interview posted on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Web site, Korbut revealed that as early as age thirteen she felt ready to compete with world-class gymnasts. "I was ready for the [1968] Olympic Games," she said, "but I was fourteen years old, thirteen even and you couldn't compete [before age sixteen]." Korbut arrived in Munich as part of a team that included Ludmilla Turischeva, acknowledged to be the best female gymnast in the world; Tamara Kazakovich, and Antonina Koshel.

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almost 6 years ago

I am an eighth grader at Spring View Middle School and am participating in National History Day. This year’s theme is turning point in history. For my topic this year, I have chosen Olga Korbut’s performance at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. We found this website and thought that it would be helpful to get futher information from it. Knowing this, we hoped you could answer some of the questions we have about our project.

I already inquired that Korbut’s performance changed copious different aspects of the sport and the popularity of gymnastics to dramatically increase. Also, I learned that gymnastics lead to many health issues. We would like to know, was the rate of injuries and/or health issues among gymnasts less before 1972 (1920-1960)? If so, how much did the rates increase between 1972 and today, since Korbut brought much more dangerous tricks to the Olympics? Did Korbut herself suffer from any injuries? I also noted that gymnastics was very unpopular before. What was the economical growth rate in women’s gymnastics? How do you think gymnastics has changed? As a sport technically? The popularity? Comaneci took gymnastics to another level after Korbut changed the main style of gymnastics. How did Comaneci make the sport more popular? What was the difference between what Korbut accomplished and what Comaneci did? Additionally, I read that the judges did not like this new change. How did different people react? Why do you think they reacted this way? What were Korbut’s scores that the audiences thought were too low and did not like? Then we read that, although Korbut did well, she and her coach did not get along very well. How do you believe that gymnastics was hard emotionally on a young girl? Why? Finally, after watching a documentary when Olga met President Nixon, it told that the tears she shed after she made a mistake proved the Soviets were not "robots." Why were the Soviets considered robots? What events occurred prior to Americans referring to Soviets as "robots?"

I understand that you are a very busy person. Thank you very much for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon. If you have any resources or information for me, please contact me by email at magreener2017@gmail.com, or to my supervisor/teacher on History Day: Mrs.Meiers at Spring View Middle School 5040 Fifth St. Rocklin, CA 95677.


Mary Greener