Friday, July 13, 2012

History Lesson: 1976 Olympic Team Finals

If you've never watched the 1976 Olympic Team Optionals, you're missing out in life.  There was life before Jordyn Wieber and Beth Tweddle.  Frankly, it was better.  Though the level of difficulty is not the same, the  gymnastics is even more compelling.  There is such artistry and intention with what the gymnasts performed: for better or for worse.

The political angles are particularly fascinating.  Let's cut the shit: Ludmilla Tourischeva was lucky to win after 1972.  Olga Korbut was a better gymnast in terms of skill level.  She was lucky the powers that be favored her over her fabulous headcase teammate. Thanks to the Soviets exploiting young Olga like an Olsen twin, Tourischeva was able to keep going and defeat her for the 1974 World AA Title despite competing in a sport that was passing her by.  Tourischeva is a lovely gymnast whom we are 'supposed' to adore and revere, yet her routines were not at the level of her teammates in Montreal.  Tourischeva's Post Munich career was equivalent to a four-year victory lap until that Romanian bitch came along.

Nadia was far and away the best gymnast in Montreal.  Watch her change the sport, as the scoreboard only went to devyat devyat pyat.  Her desyat routines in team optionals were some of the best pieces of gymnastics ever performed at an Olympic Games.  She did not 'Nadia hop' in team optionals.  Note how young Martha Karolyi fails to embrace her athlete after she makes Olympic history.  In one of sport's most iconic moments, Martha leaves the podium before Nadia exits bars.  When Nadia exits, she is embraced by Anca Grigoras.  Perhaps perfection isn't enough for Martha?  We can't have the girls think they're doing well now.  When I watch Nadia, I pay attention to how Kathy Johnson Clarke pointed out in our interview that her movements were technically correct, yet she lacked the perfect extension of her Soviet counterparts.

Another interesting aspect of the competition is that most aficionados will tell you that Teodora Ungureanu was the best performer in the world on floor exercise that year.  Note that she does not perform her double back somersault.  Is it possible that Teodora was not allowed to perform it in order to prevent outshining Nadia (who was competing a watered-down routine due to an injured ankle)?  Note that the judges undermarked her and even kept Ungureanu out of event finals.  It was another token medal for Tourischeva, who was beautiful in her day, but was lucky to medal in the All Around over Ungureanu by any standard of measurement.  If you've heard Teodora's  music before, it is because Geza is apparently quite eco-friendly.  Her dance before her second pass is still one of my favorite things along with Kobut's routine from Munich.  It warms my icy heart.

Olga Korbut looks like a tired hooker still trying to pull off the little girl act for some bad porn film, but her gymnastics is still impressive.  It is difficult to judge her routines, as they have more difficulty, but were also full of mistakes.  Olga's bar routine is almost identical to her Munich exercise.  That may be an indication of just how limited her training time was.

Elvira Saadi is the dark exotic bitch of the squad and deserves to be revered as such.

Maria Filatova was that year's Olga Korbut without the sparkle.

Svetlana Grozdova was oft-overshadowed, yet lovely.

Nelli Kim is impressive, despite the awful things she has done to the sport.  We can forgive her for helping to ensure the right gymnast won the Beijing Olympics.

What are your favorite moments from Montreal?


  1. I agree with KJC's assessment of Nadia's work in that it lacked extension-she never did quite hit 180 in her leaps-still at Montreal it didn't matter, there was a lightness and ease about Nadia's gymnastics then that really set it apart. There was something very special about the work Nadia was doing.

    Have to say my favorite moments outside of Nadia were Teodora's split handstand pirouettes on beam, Nelli's knees together double tuck on floor, and I have to say there was something very sexual about Tourischeva's floor and beam that I couldn't take my eyes off of, difficulty be damned. I think if I was an adult, straight male in 76 I would've tuned in just so I could think bad thoughts about Ludmilla's side splits on beam.

  2. Probably Teodora Ungureanu's bars, I think they are far more interesting than Nadi'a, yet still perfect form. Either she was underscored so as not to overshadow Nadia's 10, or they were really harsh because it had tiny pauses.

    1. Nadia had extra amplitude in everything she did on bars. That is the only difference between the routines. I adore Teodora's routine too. That pause probably hurt her, as well as her chest being so low on the dismount. Tourischeva's 9.95 on floor vs. Teodora's was an absolute joke.

  3. Its not fair to say that it was "lucky" that Ludmilla beat Olga in the all around in 1972. She ALWAYS beat Olga in the all around because Olga tended to make mistakes when it counted. Many would say including Nadia that Olga was more of a trickster and that technically Ludmilla was the better sport. Olga revolutionized the sport. But she lost all around competitions to Ludmilla repeatedly for a reason. Ludmilla was known as extremely mentally strong.

    Somewhere I read that in event finals 1976 Ludmilla was actually told to water down some of her skills to ensure Kim's win.

    1. Ludmilla had zero difficulty on floor in Team Finals in '76. She may have been technically correct, but there was also a political machine behind her. Olga was a fabulous headcase, which helped immensely. If you look at Ludmilla in '72, she was at the edge of what she could hope to do in terms of physical ability. You may be able to do a nice back layout full on floor for years, but it doesn't mean shit when others are doing double fulls and double backs with ease and nice form.

    2. Tourischeva had a double twist on FX in Munich. That was probably the most difficult FX skill being done at that time.

  4. I think it was some twisting elements that Ludmilla may have been told to take out. Obviously Ludmilla was not there technically any more scored correctly. Apparently the person who choose the Soviet team for 1976 was told off i.e for not going with the Younger more daring stars. This being said I'm not sure Ludmilla's attitude was "bitch" towards Nadia... Nadia's commented that Ludmilla was already very gracious towards her. WOuld make an effort to congratulate her warmly even at Euros which to Nadia must have been a disappointment for Ludmilla. Nadia commented on how Ludmilla served an example to her about how you can lose with dignity and graciousness. It meant a lot to Nadia because Tourischeva had been her idol; that her idol was so nice about being passed by.

  5. Did a monkey do Olga's hair? Who were those mafia men in sunglasses inside an indoor arena?
    Nice yellow floor with yellow judges coats.....nice touch.

    Besides all that nonsense, the gymnastics is beautiful, and I like how every note of the music on floor is filled with a slight nuance, using all body parts even a shoulder , foot, and elbow. The gymnastics they did may seem easy now but they were all powered by themselves on a non sprung floor. With all that energy going out to get the height, they still had energy to fill in every space of music.

    I really think the girls need to add more dance to their floor, or some extra movement, it does not take much to move a head or arm to the beat. This almost walking to each element is gross, and boring.

  6. One of those starved-looking East Germans got totally shafted in FX finals (the second one to go)! There should have been a deduction for the nasty rainbow leo though...