In the 1970s and 1980s I was fortunate enough to have a press pass which got me admission to report on all the main gymnastics events in Britain and Europe. I would regard this period as being the golden age of the sport. Almost all the most famous acrobatic moves of the sport originated then, there was excellent media coverage, Britain hosted several elite competitions, and a display team from the Soviet Union performed at the old Wembley arena every year. We saw all the top stars: Tourishcheva and Korbut, Comaneci and Ungureanu, Andrianov and Detyatin, Kurt Thomas and Kathy Johnson. But I always enjoyed watching the Russian girls the most. Here are a few pictures I took of them which hold particular nostalgia.
This is the women's section of the Soviet display team at Wembley, autumn 1976:- Davidova, Korbut, Grozdova, Koval, Kim, Tourishcheva, Saadi. Truly a world-beating combination!
This team won the overall competition at the 1981 World Championships in Moscow:- Ilyenko, Polevaya, Sakharova, Davidova, Filatova, Bicherova. All of them except Polevaya also won individual medals.
Olga Korbut, the girl who started it all, in London at the 1973 European Championships. She had to drop out halfway through with an ankle injury.
Vladislav Rostorotsky, one of the greatest coaches of all time, shows off two of his protegees; Shaposhnikova and Yurchenko.
The displays always started with a group warm-up routine. Shown here: Grozdova, Filatova and Davidova, but I'm not sure of the identity of the girl at centre back. Can anyone help?
Nelli Kim performs a turn on top bar. In those days the bars were positioned much closer together than now.
Elvira Saadi: surely one of the most graceful of all gymnasts
Olga Bicherova, winner of the All-Around individual title at the 1981 World Championships. She was exceptionally tiny, even for a gymnast, and many of us suspected she was really too young to be allowed to compete!
Maria Filatova practises on beam
and Natalia Shaposhnikova performs an alarming single-hand balance
whereas Svetlana Grozdova turns to smile at us, just to show how easy it is.
Maria Filatova and Natalia Ilyenko peruse the latest edition of the British gymnastics magazine. I like to think they were looking at an article I wrote about Filatova!
A charming informal grouping from 1979. How many of these girls can you identify? And where are they all now?
(See also, my piece on going to Moscow for the 1981 World Championships; and for the the 1983 World Championships, the piece on Budapest: both listed under "Travel")