15.366 – you would think that a score to the thousandth would be hard to tie, but it can happen. At the World Gymnastics Championship in Glasgow, Scotland, as many as six judges managed to put up scores that placed FOUR gymnasts at exactly 15.366 in the uneven bars final.
And so, Russians, Viktoria Komova and Daria Spiridonova, China’s Fan Yilin, and American Madison Kocian all received gold medals and then listened to three national anthems in succession.
The International Olympic Committee does not like ties in gymnastics, so has a tie breaker based on so called “start values” and “execution marks”, but to many, including FIG (the International Gymnastics Federation), ties are the right call. And yet, four? American Gabby Douglas finished fifth, and this is what she had to say according to AP: “I’ve never seen that before,” said reigning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, who finished fifth. “I was just like really judges? Come on now!”
There was a time from 1960 to 1978 when Japan’s men dominated, taking team gold in five straight Olympics, as well as five straight World Gymnastics Championships. They finally re-claimed Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004 but had not won in the World Championships since 1978…until Wednesday.
And this weekend, we find out if Uchimura, arguably the greatest men’s gymnast ever, will win gold in the men’s all around, again, as he has done since 2009. Since then he has won gold in London, Rotterdam, Tokyo, Antwerp and Nanning, including gold in the 2012 London Olympics. No one has ever come close in excellence and sustainability.
Can he make it six straight as the very best men’s gymnasts in the world?
Watch him in his floor exercise at the 2014 World Gymnastics Championships. Perfection.
Larisa Latynina has won 18 Olympic Medals – that’s a career haul of over 2 kilograms, an Olympian achievement that only Michael Phelps has been able to eclipse. When Phelps passed Latynina in 2012, she famously quipped that it was about time a man was able to do what a woman had done a long time ago.
Latynina was gracious in the passing of the torch to Phelps, enjoying the internet limelight despite missing the fame that television brought to gymnasts Olga Korbut or Nadia Comăneci. In the 1950s and 1960s, Latynina, a Ukrainian who competed under the flag of the Soviet Union, was the undisputed queen of gymnastics, on a women’s team with a proud tradition of Olympic glory.
At the Tokyo Games in 1964, Latynina won six more medals, including two golds, bringing her Olympic total of medals to eighteen. Her total 14 individual medals is still a record for female athletes. Despite helping her team to a third consecutive Olympic team gold medal, Latynina gave way in Tokyo to an up-and-coming star from Czechoslovakia, Věra Čáslavská, on the overall individual championship, who would go on to win more individual gold medals in the Olympics – seven – than any other female gymnast.
Amazingly, Latynina continued her run of championships as a coach of the Soviet Union women’s gymnastics team from 1965 to 1977, where her team took gold again and again and again.
In the 1950s and 1960s, so many athletes who competed in the Olympic Games emerged from war-torn environments, overcoming poor conditions to become the very best in the world. As explained in this link, Latynina was no exception, growing up at a time when Ukrainians either resisted or gave in to Soviet collectivization of farms, and the policy ultimately contributing to famines.
And then there were the war years, when both of Latynina’s parents died. According to this ESPN article, her father was killed in battle in 1943, and her mother had to raise her sweeping floors, washing dishes and being a night guard in order to support her daughter’s training, until she too passed away.
At that end of the war, she was 11 and started ballet, her training leading to gymnastic exercises, and eventually to gymnastics full time. At the age of 22, she led the women’s Soviet team to gold in addition to earning three individual golds, continuing a long run of glory for Soviet women’s gymnastics.
Gymnastics would evolve, points more and more earned for athletic difficulty in addition to grace and beauty, in good part due to the impact of technology on sports equipment. “More sophisticated equipment has raised the bar of what the human body can achieve, and, in turn, made the sport more complex. For example, the floor exercise was originally performed on a wooden surface. Later a thin mat was added, and today there is a springy layer that allows for higher jumping without injury.” (See this link.)
Nadia Comaneci of Romania, who along with Olga Korbut were beneficiaries of more advanced technology that
He grew up in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, dreaming of becoming a tuna fisherman like so many of the adults in his town.
But at the age of ten, he would walk around on his hands, and everybody began calling him “Handstand Boy”. His natural physical gifts eventually led to attendance at the best university for gymnastics in the strongest country for gymnastics – Nippon University in Japan. And he would go on to Olympic glory in Tokyo and Montreal.
In 1960 at Rome, Japan won its first of five straight Olympic team championships. So for Takuji Hayata (早田卓次), the youngest member of the 1964 team, it was initially intimidating to join the Japan gymnastics team. “Four of the six team members competed in Rome, including Yamashita Haruhiro who had a technique named after him. I was happy, but I was an unknown, so could I really make a contribution,” he wondered in an interview.
As it turned out, Japan won gold in the men’s team gymnastics in 1964, with Hayata taking gold in the individual rings competition. But Hayata explains that becoming a champion was not easy. He said the gymnastics coach was a perfectionist and a taskmaster.
Upon waking every day, his coach insisted that he do one hour of electromyostimulation, then three hours on core gymnastics, followed by resistance training to build up muscle. Hayata had to keep his weight down, as he had to work hard to drop about 2.5 kgs a day, which he did by running or sweating off the weight in a sauna. On top of that, his coach filmed everything, pointing out every mistake.
As a result, Hayata was in top shape. But two-and-a-half months before the opening of the Tokyo Games, his father went to the hospital and passed away. “A year before the Olympics I was in excellent condition and I enjoyed working out daily,” he said in this speech at his induction into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2004. “I was selected and attended the training camp with great joy. I didn’t want to sleep. However, my healthy father suddenly became ill and passed away. People worried about me. All my friends came to comfort me. So at the age of 24 on my birthday (which happened to be the day of the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Games), I wanted to do my best for my father.”
Hayata of course did do his best, not only for his father but for his home town. He said that during the Olympic Games, prior to his competition, he got a letter from his junior high school in Tanabe. A student had drawn a picture of him on
We watch world-class athletes with amazement, the effortlessness with which they achieve feats of strength and speed and accuracy beyond the average Joe. And yet, in truth, tremendous effort, and risk, go into the making of an Olympic champion. Paralyzed from the neck down, Laís Souza can no longer do the flips, twirls and leaps made natural from years of training as a gymnast. A two-time Olympian from Brazil, Souza was 25 and no longer able to grow in her discipline. Someone suggested that she try aerial skiing as a way to feed her thirst for competition, and aim for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. But Souza’s progress was so good, she actually qualified for Sochi in 2014, only a week before the start of the Games.
As a reward, she and her coach decided to hit the slopes for a celebratory run. And in an instant, she was on her back. And from that point on, unable to move, let alone dream of Olympic glory. “Of course I cry sometimes. Sometimes
Tamara Press was a phenomenon, winning gold in the shot put and discus in Rome, as well as gold in the shot put in Tokyo. She was a large woman, and as American gymnast, Ron Barak, told me in an interview, a hulking woman, fortunately with an equally hulking sense of humor.
“I was in line one day in the Olympic Village cafeteria, and right behind me, Tamara Press was waiting in line with a couple of Soviet teammates. My wife, who was fairly tiny, came rushing in. US officials had given wives of the gymnastic teams sweat suits so they could get in and out of the village. Barbie was coming to meet me for lunch, and was a bit late. She spotted me and hurried over. Focused on me, she somehow didn’t see Tamara, and butted right in front of her.”
“Well, Tamara Press is a very nice person. She comes up to her from behind, grabs her elbows gently and firmly and bench presses my wife above her 6 foot frame, holding her high up like a piece of lumber. Her head was pointed to the ceiling and her back was pointed to the ground. Tamara proceeded to spin her in a revolution above her head, before finally putting her down behind Tamara in line. Barbie’s eyes were wide open in shock.”
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Olympians from the 1964 Summer Olympics, over the phone, but yesterday I met in person with my very first oversees interviewee, Mr Makoto Sakamoto. Mako-san was visiting Tokyo, and it was a tremendous honor to meet the highest scoring performer on the US Men’s Gymnastics team in 1964.
Born in bombed-out Tokyo Japan, Mako-san left for the United States with his family when he was 7. At the age of 16, he got his US citizenship. At the age of 17, he was recognized as the country’s best gymnast, and represented America in the country of his birth, competing with the very best in the world, finishing 20th overall in the individual competition.
The world of men’s gymnastics at that time was dominated by countries like Japan, USSR,
Yugoslavia and Italy. The US was competitive, but not considered a threat.
But in 1984, a team whose head coach was Melbourne and Rome Olympian, Abie Grossfeld,