Saturday, July 10, 2010

Download/ History Lesson: 1980 American Cup

If you haven't caught on by now, I adore watching '70s and '80s gymnastics. There is something wonderful about watching gymnastics in its purest form. Before the sport became all about D and E scores, the gymnasts had line, elegance, beauty and showmanship. It was a time where Madison Square Garden packed a crowd to watch the best in the world show their stuff. Jim McKay and Gordon Maddox provided commentary with gravitas.

For many American fans, 1980 is a forgotten year. The 1980 Olympic Boycott is an unfortunate memory for all involved, but it is amazing to see how strong the Americans actually were. Kurt Thomas and Bart Conner were legitimate World Champions. Dreamy Kurt Thomas won titles at Worlds in Europe and the US. Both were expected to compete for gold medals in Moscow. Had they not been screwed by Eastern Bloc judges, Kurt and Bart would've become far more well known than they already are. In his day, Kurt Thomas was every bit as good as Paul Hamm plus looks and a personality.

The American Cup wasn't always a joke where the commentators spoke about how prestigious the event is despite only hundreds of fans sitting in the stands. Tracee Talavera's performance at the 1980 American Cup was extremely impressive. Competing against Emilia Eberle, Marcia Frederick and Dumitra Turner, Talavera's break out pixie performance made it easy to predict Cathy Rigby status in Moscow.

Despite competing lesser difficulty, it is still readily apparent how innovative these gymnasts were. Talavera had America's Sweetheart/ Girl Next Door charm without being obnoxious like Shawn Johnson. Gymnasts weren't 'bulky' in the '70s. They ate their dinner of tears and smiled about it. Eberle gave away the meet with her beam dismount. Given her stories about Bela, one can only wonder whether he slapped her before or after they left the arena.

I've wanted to see this meet ever since I first saw abridged clips on my Gymnastics Greatest Stars tape. I learned the sport wearing the tape out and mimicking floor routines of Korbut, Comaneci and Boginskaya. This file isn't exactly complete coverage, but it is still a delight.

Gymnastics coverage that won't make you want to gouge out your eyes and ears!


  1. One thing that really stands out to me is the originality of all of the routines. Now, routines are so stock. and actual beam choreography! not quite as good as the soviets, but i love how there was still actual thought from how to transition from one element to another, as opposed to the skill skill skill type beam routines we see today.

    i love the commentators talking about how the gymnasts were losing the balletic movements, and were required to become more like athletes. imagine the fit they'd have watching chellsie memmel thunder along on beam!

    talavera's routine is how to do cutesy without being obnoxious. clearly age appropriate, but not screaming "look at me! i'm adorable!" the fact that she actually related to the music doesn't hurt either.

    it would have been really fascinating to see how the americans would have fared in moscow. the men won the team bronze at worlds in 79, and you've already pointed out the individual accomplishments of thomas and conner. on the women's side, frederick and johnson had already won world medals, and talavera and mcnamara would go on to medal at worlds and olympics.

    i apologize for the rambling and lack of organization in this post, i was typing as i was re-watching the competition.

  2. I love, love, love all the "history lessons!" I was pretty young when all of these competitions were going on, so it's interesting to get some perspective. Keep up the great work!!!

  3. I remember being introduced to Tracee and Julianna by a HBO special about them. I then watched all their competitions on tv. Loved the floor routines to piano music! I think Tracee would had definitely been on the podium at Moscow Olympics.

  4. I don't get your Shawn Johnson hate. There is nothing obnoxious about her. I am not a fan of her gym but I am only 16 and even I can separate her gymnastics from the person. You have a lor of growing up to do. I can't believe you are an adult.

  5. Honey, you might need to come back to the blog when you're a little older.

  6. I actually don't have a favorite gymnast. I just don't like fake people.

  7. Granted I can see how Shawn's vibe could annoy some people, but "fake"? How is she "fake"?

  8. Oh, and I also wanted to say that Bart and Kurt weren't the only legitimate medal hopes on the U.S. Men's team in 1980. Actually, people thought that Ron Galimore had a better shot than anyone on the team at Olympic gold. Allegedly, even the Soviets were studying Ron's vaults.

    If you watch the fluff on Galimore that was shown during the 1992 International Mixed Pairs (I recently watched it on YouTube) - you'll see that Bart Conner and Kathy Johnson (who were commentating this meet) say that, of all the 1980 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team members, Ron might have gotten the rawest deal, in terms of possibilities that never had the chance to materialize.

  9. Peter Korman got that bronze in 76 also. People forget that. Saw a picture of him and Kurt and Bart sitting on the bench together at Montreal