Saturday, August 4, 2012

Greatest Moments in Olympic Gymnastics.

A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.

Pat Riley

1972: Olga Korbut's Back Flip on Uneven Bars

Just 17, Korbut was not considered one of the top gymnasts on the USSR team in 1972. With one move (a standing back flip to catch on the uneven bars), she stole the show.

Though she earned only a silver medal for her bar routine in the event finals, she took home golds on both beam and floor. The crowd adored her pixie-like appearance and daredevil acrobatics.

She became a household name and helped to make gymnastics popular in the mainstream media. Interestingly, the move that made Olga Korbut so famous is no longer a recognized move on the uneven bars. 

1976: Nadia Comaneci Scores a Perfect 10.0

Before 1976, no male or female gymnast had ever achieved gymnastics’ top score in the Olympic Games. At the Montreal Olympics, Romanian 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci scored seven perfect 10.0s.

Her first – the first 10.0 ever awarded in the Olympics – came in the compulsory competition. The scoreboard, unable to accommodate a ten, flashed a 1.0, and the amazed crowd jumped to its feet in a standing ovation for its new star. Comaneci went on to win the women's all-around, uneven bars, and floor exercise. 

1976: Shun Fujimoto Hits His Ring Set with a Broken Knee
The Japanese built a dynasty in men's gymnastics in the 1960s and 70s. By 1976, Japan had won the team gold in the last four Olympics. In the team finals in Montreal, however, Japanese team member Shun Fujimoto injured himself on floor. Fearing that the team would not win if he withdrew from the meet, Fujimoto hid the extent of his injury and competed his final two events of the day, pommel horse and rings.

On rings, Fujimoto scored a 9.7, after landing his full-twisting double back dismount onto a broken kneecap. His score helped the Japanese earn their fifth consecutive team gold, and he is still revered in Japan for his selfless commitment to the team.

Watch It Here

1984: Mary Lou Retton Wins the Olympic All-Around Title

At the Los Angeles Olympics, a boycott from the always-dominant Soviet team left Retton with the opportunity to become the first American woman to win the all-around title. She needed to fend off Romanian Ecaterina Szabo, however, and only a perfect 10.0 on the vault would win her the gold. 

Retton stuck her vault – an ultra-difficult full-twisting layout Tsukahara – and earned a perfect mark. She became a media sensation overnight and was the first woman ever to be featured on a Wheaties box. 

1984: US Men's Team Win Gold

Though the Soviet Union was not there to compete for the team gold in Los Angeles, the reigning world champion – China – was. And there to challenge China was a much-improved US team.

The US squad shocked everyone by taking the lead after the compulsory round of competition. With stars such as Bart Conner, Peter Vidmar, Mitch Gaylord, and Tim Daggett, the US men had the meet of their lives in optionals to win gold. They capped off their day with near-perfect high bar routines, including clutch performances from Tim Daggett (10.0) and Peter Vidmar (9.95). 

1988: Marina Lobatch Earns a Perfect Score in the Rhythmic All-Around
Marina Lobatch never won a world or European Championship title, but she put it all together at the 1988 Olympics. With scores of 10.0 on every apparatus, she won the all-around with a 60.000 in an incredibly-close competition: Bulgaria's Adriana Dunavska earned silver with a 59.950, while Lobatch's Soviet teammate Alexandra Timoshenko took bronze with a 59.875. 

1992: Vitaly Scherbo Dominates the Men's Competition

At the 1992 Olympics, Vitaly Scherbo became one of the all-time greats in just three days of competition. He won six out of the eight gold medals awarded in men's gymnastics: team, all-around, pommel horse, rings, vault, and parallel bars. 

Despite a deep field of talented men, Scherbo's picture-perfect technique and uncanny ability to stick landings set him apart. Only swimmers Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps have ever won more golds in a single Olympics. 

Watch his Bar Routine.

1996: Kerri Strug Sticks Her Vault on an Injured Ankle

The US women were on the verge of an historic win in the team competition in Atlanta. Then the unthinkable happened: Dominique Moceanu, the youngest member of the team, fell on both of her vaults in the last event of the day.

With just a slim lead over the Russian team, it was essential that Kerri Strug, the final American gymnast to perform, nail her vault. But Strug fell too, injuring her ankle in the process. With just one more shot, Strug ignored her injury and ran down for another attempt, sticking her vault before crumpling to the floor in pain.

In doing so, she assured the Americans their first Olympic team gold, and instantly became one of the most recognizable faces of the 1996 Games. 

2004: Paul Hamm Comes from Behind to Win Gold

Paul Hamm was the reigning world all-around champion at the Athens Olympics, and after leading prelims, looked to be the one to beat. But Hamm fell on vault in the all-around final, earning only a 9.137.

A win seemed impossible, until Hamm hit two incredible sets in a row on parallel bars and high bar. On each routine he earned a 9.837, the highest score of the event. On the strength of those two marks, Hamm managed to slip into the gold-medal spot by the slimmest margin possible (.012), and became the first American man to win the Olympic all-around title. 

Here is an interview with one of my favorite gymnasts, Shawn Johnson. This was in May, while she was still considering competing in the London Olympics. 

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