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Olga Korbut: The Dawn of Modern Gymnastics

Updated on December 4, 2012
The WOW Factor!
The WOW Factor!
Gold Medal in Charisma
Gold Medal in Charisma
The Flying Squirrel
The Flying Squirrel

"I Was Inspired by No One. I Was Just Born Into Gymnastics." Olga Korbut


No one may have inspired her - but - she is responsible for inspiring millions!

Let's be honest - does anyone remember the name Ludmilla Tourischeva - the Soviet All-Round winner of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games?

Or, do you - like so many others - believe that honor was bestowed upon her teammate, Olga Korbut - the tiny dynamo credited for not only lighting a fire under the world of gymnastics - but also for holding a welcome match to the Russian/American Cold War?

In fact, Olga placed a disappointing seventh at the '72 Olympics - and yet - exactly 40 years later - she remains the Undisputed Champion when it comes to revolutionizing an entire sport!

She is single-handedly responsible for the frenzied explosion in popularity and growth that has defined gymnastics since she marched out from behind the Iron Curtain in 1972 to kick it into an entirely different stratosphere!

The four foot eleven, pig-tailed Soviet with the mega-watt smile turned a sport that was an embarrassing 'flop' for the United States of America - into a 'flipping' success!

Quite literally!

THE KORBUT FLIP - a never-before-imagined-or-executed move on the uneven bars - brought the world - and the media - to it's collective knees at her tiny, size 6 feet!

And captured the imagination of little girls worldwide - myself included!

Yes, Gabrielle Douglas, The Flying Squirrel - owes much to Olga Korbut, The Sparrow from Minsk!



The Korbut Flip
The Korbut Flip


She followed The korbut Flip with the Korbut Salto and the Korbut Flik-Flak - creating a 'WOW factor' the sport had never before experienced!

In addition to the heavy-weight impact that this feather-weight Soviet had on the world of gymnastics - she also managed to punch a warm and fuzzy hole in the frigid ice of the American/Soviet Cold War as well!

In 1975, she was awarded the prestigious 'Gold Tuning Fork' by the United Nations for promoting understanding and improving communication between East and West - at the time locked in an untenable and unsustainable politically explosive relationship - The Cold War!

Her outgoing, spontaneous, and adorable personality - combined with that friendly, charismatic grin - was the furthest thing the world expected to see from a stoic and scary Communist!

The Big Melt had begun...

And the rest - as they say - is history!

As it is the future!

She Turned The Gymnastics World Upside Down
She Turned The Gymnastics World Upside Down
The Smile That Warmed The Cold War
The Smile That Warmed The Cold War

The Highlights...

1955: Olga is born is Grodno, Belarus, USSR

1972: Wins three Olympic gold medals and one silver in Munich, Germany

  • Named 'Athlete of the Year' by ABC "Wide World of Sports"
  • Awarded the Soviet 'Master of Sport in Gymnastics'

1975: Named 'Woman of the Year' by the United Nations

  • Named "Athlete of the Year" by Women's Sport Foundation
  • Presented the 'Gold Tuning fork' Award by the United Nations

1976: Wins one Olympic gold medal and one silver in Montreal, Canada

1977: Retires from competing and takes up coaching

1979: Gives birth to Richard, her only child

1988: First inductee into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame

1991: Olga and her family immigrate to the United States

1994: Named a Sport Illustrated 'Top athletes of the Past 40 Years'

1996: Offically christened 'The Mother of Gymnastics'

Present: Olga Korbut resides in Scottsdale, Arizona

  • She is currently under consideration to win the award for The Most Influential Athlete of the 20th Century.


Olga Korbut Today
Olga Korbut Today

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    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      You actually met her?! What was she like?! Was she tiny? She look tiny.

      Sorry, I...I didn't mean to go all fangirl, there.

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Cowboy! Hi Ed! Yes indeedy do - i was a gymnast and no - i wasn't abused sexually.. (HEY - i WAS a gymnast..lol). I trained in eugene oregon and less than 800 miles down the road - in california - gymnasts were being sexually and physically abused by their coach - Doug Bogar (i wrote a hub on it - it's called 'The Sexual Abuse of Gymnasts - It Could Have Been ME!'

      as far as 2 countries getting along? I met part of the Russian Womens Gymnastics team at the World's Fair in Spokane Washington in 1976 - including Olga Korbut..

      Their English was much better than our Russian (D'uh) but - we tried to show them how to blow bubbles with gum!

      i NEED YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS..

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 4 years ago

      I remember thinking at the time Olga was first Big ! that if the people of these two giant superpowers would just get to know each other we would realize that we're simply , all one people ,! Crazy freakin world ! And you my dear were a gymnast weren't you ? I hope you were never abused like so many of them were , like so many young people being trained for the olympic possibility , It sure seems that these kids are driven to accomplish too much at such an age where kids should be allowed to be kids ! , Big ole hugg !.......:-}

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Teaches12345: She certainly inspired me....

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I remember Olga Korbut and how she captured the heart of America with her sweet smile and spunky attitude in gymnastics. Great review on this talented athlete's achievement. Yes, she will inspire many to come.

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Marcoujor: Ah...lol..ya only gotta tell me twice!

      As far as perspectives goes - i never heard anything so i must resign myself that my application would up in the 'reject' pile..

      lol..

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Sorry, Leslie... I cheat and do not spell out all votes but F for FUNNY.

      I am looking forward to you joining us soon with Perspectives, by the way...very cool!

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Marcoujor: Mine too - hands down! So glad i could shine a spotlight on one of your idols! She deserves it!

      Um..what is UABI? (lol)

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Olga was my idol, back in 1972. How very interesting to learn about her life and achievements since.

      Thank you...Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @DanaTeresa: Thank you, my friend!

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Very interesting and nicely written. I have a friend that coaches children's gymnatics. I am going to share this with her.

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Rollyachabot: To be honest, Rolly - she did me a great service...Thanks for visiting! Feel welcome anytime!

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi ImKarn23... very well written. Occasionally an athlete comes along that catches the attention of the world and you have done her a great service here... well done...

      Hugs from Alberta (BC)

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Criticalmessage: I absoluted LOVE your comment! Thank you Olga, Thank you CriticalMessage..lol..

    • CriticalMessage profile image

      Murphy 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Olga being the 1st gymnast who made me want to watch gymnastics... 1972 being the 1st Olympiad that I remember watching... She was truly my introduction to the sport when I was a kid... Nadia simply solidified my interest... Thank You Olga ! & Thank You Leslie !

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Phoenix2327: Loved this comment, P! So perfectly said! I was already in love with gymnastics, but - that was the moment i made the Olympics my goal!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      How well I remember that moment when Ms. Korbut executed that backward somersault. That was the moment I fell in love with gymnastics.

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Tobusiness: Lol..it is a beautiful - if crazy - sport! Thanks for working through the wince! lol

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      ImKarn, you've written a wonderful tribute to a tremendously talented gymnast. Even looking at the images makes me wince, ouch...

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Sueswan: Hi, Sue! Yep, a 4'11, 16 year old, 85 pound game changer! Thanks for taking the time, my friend!

    • profile image

      Sueswan 4 years ago

      Hi Leslie,

      I can see from the video Olga's talent as gymnast and passion for the sport. She has an infectious smile.

      Voted up and awesome

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Pamela99: My pleasure - Olga changed my life...quite literally..

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      Very interesting article. I remember Olga Korbut and did not know the true story. I thought Olga was just fantastic. Thanks for the informative hub.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      Leslie. ..I am having a hard time I will be gone for s while. I am in a

      Depressed state mind...please forgive me I will try yo be .a m next. week

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Bring it on, Leslie! Adult content? I'm an adult and so are you!

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Alwaysexploring: Gabby was phenomenal - without doubt! She makes the sport proud! Guess what? If you take the name DOUGLAS (Gabby's last name) and turn the letters around? You get USAGOLD! Is that fate, or what?

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I remember Olga, she was great. I wasn't into gymnastics so much back then, but this year i really enjoyed Gabriella ,she's a doll. Interesting Hub Leslie..Cheers

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Kashmir56: I love when folks agree with me! She was the best - after her - we were all just trying to catch up! Some of the moves she did way back then are banned today for being too dangerous! Cool, eh?

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Bravewarrior: (thank you for saying it...i was just noticing the odds of me ever getting a 'hub of the day' were between slim and F-All! LOL..i can't write about how to build a birdhouse, or how to make a patchwork quilt, or, how best to teach toddlers to say words) Other than the high level of poetry round here and the odd political piece - there's very little meat and potatoes - im noticing!

      I'm also noticing how quickly and eagerly the hub seems to pull my pieces for 'adult content'!! What's adult content, exactly? Anything with a serious issue behind it? Grrrr....

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend awesome hub,yes Olga was a little dynamite in the world of gymnast and always with that cute smile on her face. She would always WOW the crowd where ever she preformed. She was the best !

      Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Leslie, thank you for bringing Olga back into the limelight. She was indeed remarkable. I however, was unaware of her being integral in the melting of the Cold War. What a legacy she leaves!

      Very interesting piece and a refreshing change from the drudgery that seems to be circulating the HP pages of late.

      Thanx again!

    • profile image

      Ray 4 years ago

      Very good hub ...cleared up some things I'd say.. set the record straight

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Rcrumple: Even way back then - everyone thought Olga had won! There was certainly not the mass media there is today - and - she who garnered the most attention - was basically the winner. Olga won hands down!

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Mhatter99: I soooo agree, M! In my opinion - it's because they allowed professionals to compete in what has always been a global amateur event...when you screw with winning ingredients - the cake can often fall flat!

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @HLPhoenix: Hi, GOAH! Olga didn't really make 'efforts' as a good will ambassador - it just came naturally! That ice started melting with her first smile and opened doors that had never existed before!

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Fyrfytr234: It's not often that someone who places 7th outshines she who placed first! THAT says plenty right there! The fact that ludmilla was a boring, unreadable, unsmiling, 'typical' communist might have had something to do with it - but - there was definitely magic in the air - and a pixie in the gym!

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Pagesvoice: Not many people realize the impact that Olga had on E/W political tensions! I had the honor of meeting Olga at the world's fair in spokane washington where the soviet team was doing a demo! i went backstage and blew bubbles for her while she laughed! It was...memorable! I would have competed in 1976 against Olga, Nadia, Nellie, and Ludmilla...HAHA...You'd have never once heard my name....

    • ImKarn23 profile image
      Author

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Billybuc: In my opinion (as old as it may be) Olga stands out from any other gymnast - before or since! No one has changed the sport - any sport - so dramatically. And to think she was isolated behind that iron curtain and knew naught of what the rest of the world was doing? - incredibly brave and innovative!

    • ImKarn23 profile image
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      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      @Krsharp05: Nice to 'meet' you, K!

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Extremely interesting. I, like many, thought Olga was the champion, as the mind only goes back clearly so far. lol Thoroughly enjoyed! Up & Interesting!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      For some reason Olympics seemed better in the past. Good article. Thank you

    • HLPhoenix profile image

      HLPhoenix 4 years ago

      I've always loved gymnastics... ran in the family, for several generations until reaching it's pinacle with you... a great article, I love Olga... I didn't remember about her efforts as a good will Ambassador, glad to be reminded. Also I am very glad for her and her family that they are living in America. :)

    • FyrFytr234 profile image

      FyrFytr234 4 years ago

      You are correct. Her charisma was more memorable than who won the gold. I remember her without a doubt. Always smiling and always enjoyable to watch. Nice hub. Thanks for the memories.

    • pagesvoice profile image

      Dennis L. Page 4 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Voted up, useful and interesting, plus I answered your questions. Olga certainly was the catalyst for thawing some of the tensions between the USSR and the U.S. Throughout the years we have been treated to Svetlana Khorkina, Nadia Comaneci, the great Shannon Miller and of course Mary Lou Retton and there are so many more, but the names escape me right now. I am always amazed what these tiny little frames can do with such precision. They are true athletes in every sense of the word.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I remember her well and everything you wrote about her is the truth! Oh, that smile! Oh, that energy! She was one of a kind and she will always be remembered!

    • krsharp05 profile image

      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      Very interesting article. Couldn't pass up the opportunity to read about gymnastics. Great job. Interesting & up -K