As we get closer to the Rio Olympics, TCG will look back at the previous quad’s most memorable moments. To conclude the series, let’s look at the 1989-1992 quad. We saw the end of the 10.000 in competition, as well as last of the Soviet Union’s stronghold on the sport. Also, there were some controversies, as well as many new stars to celebrate!
New Life A new rule was implemented in this code, and it was a bit controversial at first, but soon everyone got used to working with it. Up until this point, all-around and event final placements were determined by combining the scores from that particular competition with the qualification scores (which were an average of the compulsories and optionals). So if you look back at scores pre-1989, you’ll see event final scores out of 20 and all-around scores out of 80—and this was still in the 10.00 system, mind you!
But the 1989 Worlds were the first to introduce the ‘New Life’ concept to major competition. In doing so, once an athlete qualified for all-around or event finals, all scores started from scratch, so no one was in a deficit or advantage. The winner that particular night or on that particular event was the absolute winner.
The next Memorable Moment will examine the impact of this rule at its first Olympics—if qualification scores were carried over, do you think the Unified Team would have switched Galieva out for Gutsu?
**The All-Around Switch ** In a still heavily debated topic, the all-around at the Barcelona Olympics came down to Tatiana Gutsu of Ukraine, representing the Unified Team, and American Shannon Miller. Shannon had a stellar compulsories and optionals, surpassing her teammates in qualifications, including World Champion Kim Zmeskal who had a mistake in compulsories (though Zmeskal had a higher optional total). Gutsu also did well for most of the team competition, but she fell off beam in optionals. At the end of the competition, she had a gold medal with her team, but she was the fourth place qualifier behind Boginskaya, Lysenko, and Galieva. With only three per country allowed in all-around finals, it appeared one of the favorites wouldn’t even get the chance to compete.
But on the night of all-around finals, there was Gutsu, warming up for competition. Roza Galieva was nowhere to be seen; reports of an injury started circulating (though some reports from the Games were more clear cut—Galieva was removed from competition in favor of Gutsu). Indeed, the Unified team coaches believed that Gutsu had a better chance at the podium; by the end of the competition, she had another gold medal around her neck.
This was not the first time the Unified Team (former Soviet Union) did this to their own gymnasts—the 1985 All-Around Co-Champions (Omelianchik and Shushunova) did not initially qualify for all-around finals but were put in by their coaches (interestingly, they still managed to win the competition, even with some sub-par scores being carried over).
But how would Gutsu have fared had the new life not be in effect? Combining her all-around and team average, she would have a total of 79.161. Miller would have prevailed with a 79.381 (instead, she trailed gold by .012). Lavinia Milosovici, the bronze medalist, would have a 79.286; Christina Bontas (4th) would have a 76.280; Boginskaya (5th) would have a 79.317. Even with a huge all-around score (39.737), Gutsu would not have been in true contention for the podium.
Whether or not people believe it was fair for Gutsu to compete, she did place in the top 36 for finals, and her coaches made the decision to give her the chance (much like the Romanians did in 1996 and 1997, replacing Marinescu with Amanar in the all-around). Triple Twist Blog just did a great interview with Gutsu, who reflects back on her experience as a 15-year-old and being told she now has a chance at the all-around.
Whenever an all-around is so close, and you add in the drama of gymnastics politics, the results will continue to be discussed and debated. Whether or not you feel Gutsu should have competed or whether or not you feel Gutsu should have won over Miller that night, I maintain it all would be a moot point if not for the new life rule.
In 1996, NBC reflected back on Gutsu’s experience in this classic fluff–
The Goddess of Gymnastics Following the 1988 Olympics, the young star of the Soviet team, Svetlana Boginskaya, carried the tradition of her country’s program through to Barcelona. Only 15 at her first Olympics, Bogi won team and vault gold, as well as all-around bronze and floor silver. A monumental success that was quickly marred by tremendous tragedy—once the team returned home, Boginskaya’s coach, Lyubov Miromanova, died by suicide.
After the shocking loss of a woman who had acted as a surrogate mother, Bogi initially struggled to find motivation in her training; she eventually found her groove and came to the 1989 World Championships with a renewed fervor. She walked away from those Worlds with three golds—team, all-around, and floor.
Known as The Goddess of Gymnastics (as part of her last name alludes to the word meaning ‘goddess’), Bogi soldiered on, despite her height and style, which were radically different than the gymnastics of the time. In a definite ‘pixie era’ of the sport, Bogi held her own with stellar form, innovative touches to her routines, and grit that made her an imposing figure on the competition floor. Though others had more releases on bars or heftier tricks on beam and floor, Bogi maintained her regal status on the Soviet team and served as their undisputed leader.
Though she talked about retiring in 1990, Bogi made the push to the Barcelona Olympics (at the ‘old’ age of 19). At the 1991 Worlds, her team won their last world title as a unified system, and she won the title on beam. But her silver in the all-around to Kim Zmeskal seemed to ring the bell that Bogi’s time was coming to an end. By 1992, more of the young upstarts in the sport (Gutsu, Miller, and Milosovici among them) indeed surpassed Bogi, who left Barcelona without an individual medal.
But it would be unfortunate to limit Bogi’s career or legacy to a ‘disappointing’ Olympics—she did win team gold, finished 5th in the all-around, and made vault, beam, and floor finals (she was replaced on floor by Chusovitina). Her emotion and care for her teammates, connection to the audience, and attention to detail in her gymnastics rose above the rest of the field, even as other gymnasts were rising above her in the standings.
As expected, Bogi retired after Barcelona. She spent time in the United States, which led to her training with Bela Karolyi of all people (who had declared that her ‘time’ was over when his Zmeskal beat Bogi at Worlds). In a truly remarkable move, she continued with her career in 1995 and 1996, making it to her third Olympics. As always, Bogi broke through the stereotype of what gymnastics ‘should’ be. Even when she was deemed too tall, too old, too serious, too avante garde, Bogi truly showed why she was the Belarussian Swan and Goddess of Gymnastics.
Dramatic fluff from NBC during the 1992 Olympics–
The Hungarian Hope This quad saw the rise of an unexpected champion—a gymnast from a country that was once a powerhouse, but had since lost its footing in the gym world. Henrietta Onodi, or Henni, was the undisputed star and leader for Team Hungary. Not since the 1950s, when Agnes Keleti challenged in European, World, and Olympic competition, had a Hungarian gymnast reached such heights and captivated audiences.
Henni first emerged on the scene in 1986, but was too young to compete at the 1988 Olympics. By 1989, she won a European title on bars (the first such title for her country), finished 5th on beam at the Worlds, and made a strong impression at the 1990 World Cup with four medals, including a gold on vault. Despite her diminutive stature, she displayed powerful and risky skills. In addition to her great routines, her pleasant personality and joy while competing endeared her to audiences all around the world.
A mature Henni came to the 1991 Worlds with high expectations. An unfortunately timed back injury kept her from achieving the success many expected, and several falls and botched routines devastated her. She did manage to walk away with a silver on vault, as well as a strong resolve to come back stronger in 1992.
And come back she did. At the event final Worlds, Henni became World Champion on vault and won silver on floor. At the Barcelona Olympics, she was an individual star among the Unified, Romanian, Chinese, and United States teams; in fact, she was the only medal winner that did not come from those countries. Despite trouble on beam (a fall on her namesake skill in team optionals and a 9.712 score in the all-around), Henni finished a respectable 8th in the all-around and shined in the event finals. With a strong front entry piked barani vault, she shared the Olympic title with Lavinia Milosovici. In the floor event finals, her Hungarian Rhapsody routine and fast-paced, difficult tumbling scored a 9.950 and won her the silver (Milosovici won gold with a 10.000).
Onodi’s name lives on due to her popular skill (though first performed by Olga Mostepanova), but her medal count, titles, skills, and overall demeanor in competition also created a long-lasting legacy amongst gym fans. She made a surprising comeback to help her country at the 1996 Olympics, and had she performed compulsory bars, she may have made all-around finals. While those Olympics were not about individual glory or success, Henni was committed to help her team and once again be their leader and guide.
Here is her floor from event finals at the Barcelona Olympics, full of energy, life, and connection with the music and the audience!
**North Korea’s First World Champion ** Just as Onodi was the only gymnast outside the ‘Big 4’ to medal in Barcelona, North Korea’s Kim Gwang-suk was another name to break through onto the podium at the 1991 Worlds. The first World Champion from her country, Kim Gwang-suk’s daring release combination on bars and her fast swing were emphasized by her diminutive size. So diminutive, in fact, that she could not escape the rumors that she was underage. As it was, her age was listed as fifteen for several years, making her eligible for competition all quad long. While she was later found out to be too young to compete, she was able to retain her title, as well as the honor of scoring the last perfect 10.000 in world championship competition (North Korea was banned from competition in 1993).
While her age is still unknown, some speculate she was about 13 years old at the time of this performance:
The End of the 10** While the 10.000 system continued on for another decade or so, the reality of scoring the perfect 10 ended with this quad. After the 1988 Olympics, where women were rewarded sixteen perfect scores, the code of points increased the difficulty for giving such a score. Still not impossible, but the 1992 Olympics only saw two scores of 10.000—for Lu Li on uneven bars and Lavinia Milosovici on floor, both in event finals.
The last 10.000 at the Worlds was for Kim Gwang-suk on bars, as previously mentioned. The others to score the last of the 10s at Worlds in each event were: Kim Zmeskal (1991, vault, team optionals), Oleysia Dudnik (1989, beam, team optionals), Svetlana Boginskaya and Daniela Silivas (1989, floor, event finals). The other last perfect scores on events at the Olympics were Elena Shushunova (1988, vault, all-around) and Daniela Silivas (1988, beam, team optionals).
There were other 10s awarded at the 1989 Worlds, as well throughout other national and international competitions. But after 1992, the difficulty value required on each apparatus continued to grow to such an extent, as did the breakdown of deductions, resulting in the end of an era long before the new scoring system.
Watch the smooth and sublime style of Fan Di, who was the second World Champion from China on bars. She scored at 10.000 in 1989, tying her with Daniela Silivas:
**have your ordered Dvora Meyer’s book yet??
**The Rise of Kimbo ** After huge success with Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Olympics, gymnasts in the USA flocked to gyms in hope of following in her footsteps. One gymnast was already in Houston, training with Bela Karolyi, was poised to lead the United States team to new heights. After 1984, Team USA saw far less international success, so Karolyi was anxious to showcase his new powerhouse, Kim Zmeskal. Zmeskal impressed early on with her dynamic tumbling on floor (three whip backs!), super solid beam sets, and signature flair on vault. A three-time national all-around champion (1990-92), Zmeskal also stole the show at the 1991 Worlds by winning the all-around title—the first such title for an American gymnast.
While some (notably, Soviet rival Boginskaya) commented that Zmeskal wouldn’t experience the same success in Europe (since the Worlds were held in the United States), Zmeskal showed her stuff by walking away with two more world titles (beam and floor) at the 1992 Worlds held in France. The spotlight shined brightly on Zmeskal leading up to the Barcelona Olympics—her image and likeness were everywhere in the media, and she was quickly embraced as the new darling of the sport.
Once at the Olympics, however, Zmeskal struggled. A stress fracture in her ankle, and perhaps some of the pressure, caught up to her performances. Within a few seconds of her first routine on compulsory beam, she fell. In danger of failing to qualify for the all-around finals, Zmeskal posted the best optionals score, helping the Americans win bronze as a team. But Zmeskal was tenth at the end of the all-around competition, after an out of bounds on floor and a botched beam set. Event finals didn’t fare any better, as she sat down her second vault and had a lackluster floor that was just outside the medals.
Zmeskal initially retired, making comebacks for the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, though both were derailed by injuries. Though she didn’t have the storybook career Olympics that everyone had predicted for her, Zmeskal showed great character, even in the face of disappointments. It’s great to root for and cheer the gymnast who is winning at the time, but I actually gained greater appreciation for Kim, the gymnast who first got me interested in gymnastics, after her mistakes. She continued to persevere and show her love for the sport, mounting incredible comebacks and now coaching great athletes. Her reflections about her Olympic experience are mature and full of hope, not bitterness. As someone who battled her own bout of perfectionism, Zmeskal’s career showed me a new way to qualify success and failure.
Her story also serves as a cautious tale for those deemed the next ‘one’—Zmeskal’s story is truly about the journey and process, not just the gold in the end. Despite never being an Olympic champion, Zmeskal’s response to adversity and graciousness was truly an inspiration to me!
A shining moment—Kimbo’s all-around floor in 1991—on Friday the 13th and Bela’s birthday!
The Depth and Brilliance of the Soviet Union (suggested by @mrrusskie93) As this quad progressed, the political and geographical changes in the gymnastics powerhouse of the Soviet Union was a major story. By 1991, the Soviet Union competed as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In 1992, the independent states competed against each other at the European Championships, and were the Unified Team (EUN) at the Barcelona Olympics, competing under the Olympic flag. Individual medal winners say the flags of their new republics raised for the first time.
The Worlds at 1989, then, were truly the last of the Soviet Union team before the political changes. Their depth and brilliance is evident in the magnitude of superstars from this era. Scores of beautiful and innovative gymnasts who may or may not have competed in Barcelona are still fan favorites.
Evidence is seen as the Soviets are reclaiming the World title after their loss to Romania in 1987. Starting on vault, both Dudnik and Laschenova scored perfect 10s, followed by a 10 from Boginskaya on bars, then another 10 for Dudnik on beam. In addition to those perfect scores, the low scores that were thrown out would have been welcomed by other teams—9.837 on vault, 9.862 on bars, and an uncharacteristic 9.475 on beam.
These performances set up the truly stunning display on floor. Baitova (9.837), Boginskaya (10.000), Dudnik (9.950), Laschenova (9.987), Sazonenkova (9.850), and Strazheva (9.987) showed the world a beautiful selection of music, dance, tumbling, and overall command of the apparatus—a fitting rotation for the last of these Soviets.
All of the routines listed above are obviously worth showcasing, but I am obsessed with Laschenova’s first/second tumble!
Four years is a lot to cover!! Add your own significant memory and moment from this quad in the comments. Thank you so much for accompanying me as we looked back throughout the years as we prepare for Rio. I’ve loved the feedback, comments, memories, and discussions. Here’s to a great conclusion to the 2013-2016 quad
Article by: Kristen Ras