sports: mark spitz and olga korbut


Mark Andrew Spitz (1950) American Jewish swimmer won won seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, an achievement only surpassed by Michael Phelps who won eight golds at the 2008 Olympics. He was the most successful athlete at the 1972 Summer Olympics and was named World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972 by Swimming World magazine.

Olga Valentinovna Korbut (1955), is Soviet-born gymnast also called the “Sparrow from Minsk”. She won four gold medals and two silver medals at the Summer Olympics, in which she competed in 1972 and 1976 for the USSR team. Korbut, who started training at age 8, entered a Belarusian sports school headed by coach Renald Knysh at age 11. There, Korbut’s first trainer was Elena Volchetskaya, a Olympian gold medalist,[1] but she was moved to Knysh’s group a year later. Initially he found her “lazy and capricious” but he also saw potential in her great talent, unusually supple spine, and charisma.[1] With him, she learned a difficult backward somersault on the balance beam. She debuted this at a competition in the USSR in 1969. In the same year, Olga completed a backflip-to-catch on the uneven bars; this was the first backward release move ever performed by a woman on bars. She ended fifth at her first competition in the 1969 USSR championships, where she was allowed to compete as an under age 15 year old. The next year, she won a gold medal in the vault. Due to illness and injury, she was unable to compete in many of the tournaments prior to the 1972 Olympics. At the 1972 Olympics, her acrobatics and open display of emotion—notably, she wiped tears from her face after a disastrous uneven bars routine—in contrast to the stereotypically cold eastern bloc athlete, captivated the Munich audiences. There she became one of the first persons ever to do a backward somersault on the balance beam in competition. She was also the first to do a standing backward somersault on bars, and a back somersault to swingdown (Korbut Flip) on beam. Her bars move is no longer seen in high level gymnastics, but the tuck back and Korbut Flip are still very popular (2003 world beam champion Fan Ye performed both in her routine). This excellence in technical skills overthrew the sport’s traditional emphasis on artistry. During the Olympics, Korbut was one of the favourites for the all-around after her dynamic performance in the team competition; however, she missed her mount on bars three times and the title went to her teammate Ludmilla Tourischeva. Notwithstanding, Korbut won three gold medals for the balance beam, floor exercise and team. In one of the most controversial finishes of all time, she took a silver medal in the uneven bars.

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