SI Vault
The next stop: Outer Space
Dan Levin
November 07, 1983
China won the title, the U.S.S.R. had the star
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November 07, 1983

The Next Stop: Outer Space

China won the title, the U.S.S.R. had the star

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"Eighteen," Arkaev said, grinning at his prize pupil, Belozertchev.

Is Korolev, who didn't even qualify for the all-around, washed up at 21? And what about his teammate Olga Bitcherova, who had won the '81 worlds at only 14, the youngest woman ever to do so? At Budapest she failed to qualify for the women's all-around. But what happened there should give heart to all such golden-agers. The Soviet women beat Romania and East Germany for the team title, and their big gun was Natalia Yurtchenko, 18. Despite her advancing years, she was obviously in complete possession of all her faculties—going into the last day of women's all-around, she was No. 1, with .15 of a point lead over Romania's Lavinia Agache, no spring chicken either, at 17.

Yurtchenko is a strikingly beautiful dark-eyed young woman who seems much larger than her 5'1" and 99 pounds. It may be because of the way she carries herself, head held high and back, the proud posture of many great female gymnasts. Of course, it may also be because the average height of female gymnasts these days seems to be about 3'4". Yurtchenko has presence, just as Belozertchev has. While she was doing a backward somi onto the vaulting horse and racking up a 10, Agache was falling off the beam and coming up with a 9.35. Scratch one threat. As Yurtchenko whirled around the uneven bars, fifth-place Maxi Gnauch of East Germany followed Agache off the beam. Scratch another.

The beam seemed jinxed on this day, and now Yurtchenko took her turn on it. She did two back handsprings, landing on her feet each time, and then, instead of prancing and pirouetting up and down the beam, as most other female gymnasts do, she turned at right angles and began a series of hip circles around it, above and below it, fluid, flowing, lovely to see. She capped her routine with a double reverse somi dismount. It gained her a 9.9, and after a 10 in her floor exercise, Yurtchenko was the new women's champion.

The U.S. women's team, which was not at top strength because of injuries, finished seventh. The durable 23-year-old Kathy Johnson was 11th in the all-around, with Julianne McNamara coming in 16th.

Of the U.S. men, Mitch Gaylord finished eighth in the all-around, followed by hardy perennials Peter Vidmar, ninth, and Bart Conner, 11th. Gaylord's eighth was only one point off the 118.25 second-place score of Koji Gushiken of Japan. "Mitch could have picked up half a point just by improving his landings," said his coach, Art Sherlock. "He's a logical contender for a bronze in L.A."

By the end of Sunday's apparatus competition, 11 more 10s had been added to that earlier total of 22. Three of them were awarded to Belozertchev, in the pommel horse, rings and high bar.

Watching Belozertchev, someone asked: "What can the FIG require to increase the degree of difficulty for a 10? Make the gymnasts fly?"

If they do, Belozertchev will.

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Related Topics
Natalia Yurtchenko 1 0 0
Dmitri Belozertchev 1 0 0
China 333 0 3
U.S.S.R. 318 0 3
Lavinia Agache 1 0 0