Well if you have been anywhere near TCG-related social media this weekend you’ll know (and if you haven’t and want to, links to the Facebook and Twitter are at the bottom of the page) about this already. Yesterday I posted a video of former Soviet gymnast Oksana Omelianchik performing on beam during the event finals at the 1985 European Championships.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, here it is:
The reason I got so excited about this beam set was not just the outrageous difficulty and originality of the set- we all know to expect that ‘before their time’ kind of difficulty and genius in the work of the Soviets, but the way it was performed.
And again, when it comes to Omelianchik, it is no surprise to anyone who has ever seen the famous ‘birdie’ routine that this kid knew how to perform.
From the moment she hit the Soviet big time in the mid-eighties Oksana Omelianchik certainly had the ‘munchkin factor’ working for her in spades. And everybody loves a munchkin. And at the time, Omelianchik’s impish charms certainly complimented the more sombre, powerful approach of her partner-in-medals at the time, Elena Shushunova, beautifully.
What was so arresting about this routine for me, however, was the palpable joy in Omelianchik’s performance. When do we ever-have we ever- seen a gymnast smile nearly all the way through a beam routine- a near flawless routine nonetheless? On floor we might see some smiles, but even then the smile usually disappears before each tumbling run. But on beam? The only gymnast I recall seeing looking vaguely happy during beam was Anna Dementyeva in 2010.
Omelianchik was such a show-off- in just the right kind of way. When all eyes were on her she turned her strut on and totally owned her performances. There was a sense that she knew exactly what she could do and was so, so ready to show it off to the world.
Just look at the little smile as she prepare to begin floor. The world was her stage.
Her particular brand of happy was rare then, but it is rare now, that is for sure. And what a pity.
I know this is an elite sport, and there is no time for smiles when medals are at stake. I know athletes should not be expected to smile. I know gymnasts these days have bigger problems like connection bonuses, and skill credits on their minds when they go up to perform. I know Oksana was a rare bird even back then, a small, proud, infectiously charming little peacock.
And I know this might say a lot, too, about her age (how old was she really at this time?). Perhaps she was one of those blithe babies I have written about before, not aware of the weight she carried on her shoulders. Maybe she was, but despite her age and stature, she had the grit to see past it. I don’t know.
But after all the tears and frowns and frustrations of London, it is nice to see some joy out on the floor, that’s all I am saying….
Bonus track. Omelianchik performing a very different kind of routine in 1988. Lovely work:
Article: Brigid McCarthy
Join in the conversation on Facebook on The Couch Gymnast’s News Page.
Join the TCG Twitter