Everything is subject to natural evolutionary processes including artistic gymnastics.

The earliest champions in gymnastics tended to be in their 20s as the sport at that time did not require the difficulty it requires nowadays. Most of these gymnasts had studied ballet before moving to gymnastics.

Maria Gorokhovskaya of USSR won her Olympic all around title at the age of 30 at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Gorokhovskaya is the oldest female all around Olympic champion. Her title was the first of the seven Olympic all around titles won by Soviet gymnasts.

Beside her all around gold, she won gold in the team competition and silvers on all four events. She also won a silver medal with her team in team portable apparatus competition which is nowadays rhythmic gymnastics. With seven medals, Gorokhovskaya holds the record for most medals won by a female Olympian in a single Olympics.

Two years later, she won a gold with the team and a bronze on floor at the World championship. The team gold medal was the first for Soviet Union.  After Worlds, she retired and worked as a judge and lecturer. 

Gorokhovskaya died in 2001 at the age of 79.

Czech Vera Caslavska is one of the most famous gymnasts in the world. She is one of the only two gymnasts who won two Olympic all around gold medals. Caslavska won her first title at the age of 22 and the second at the age of 26.

Caslavska is the most decorated Czech gymnast having won eleven Olympic medals, ten World medals and thirteen European medals.  She is the only gymnast, male or female, ever who has won Olympic gold on every individual event.  She is also the only female gymnast ever to win every Olympic, World Championships and European Championships all-around title from one Olympiad to the next.  Caslavska was the most successful athlete at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Vera competed in three Olympic games, 1960 Rome Olympics, 1964 Tokyo Olympics and 1968 Mexico city Olympics. In her first Olympics, she only won one medal, a silver with her team.

Between 1964–68 Caslavska won 19 individual gold medals in the major international competitions compared with 7 for all Soviet gymnasts during this time.

She was forced into retirement after 1968 Olympics for her strong opposition to soviet-style Communism and Soviet invasion. She married runner and Olympic silver medalist Josef Odložil during the games, their wedding attracted wide public attention.

As of 2008, she resides in Prague, Czech republic.

Soviet Ludmilla Tourischeva won her all around Olympic title in her second Olympics at the age of 19 (her 20th birthday was one month away) . Like Caslavska, Tourischeva competed at three Olympic games, Mexico city where she won a gold with the team,she also placed 24th in the all around, Munich where she won four medals including the all around gold and Montreal where she also won four medals. 

From 1970 to 1974 she dominated almost every major international competition, she won two all around titles at Worlds and Europeans and won two World title on a floor and one on beam. She also won a gold medal on every event in the European’s individual final.

During the 1975 World Cup at Wembley Stadium in London, just as Tourischeva landed her bar dismount the apparatus fell apart and crashed to the ground. She calmly saluted the judges and walked away without looking back.Years later, Tourischeva said of the incident that at that moment she remembered only one thing that she must complete her routine and stick it.

After her last Olympics, she married the sprinter Valeriy Borzov, a two time Olympic champion in 1972. She was elected to the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Technical Committee of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) in 1981.

Although being eligible, Soviet Yelena Shushnova could not compete at the 1984 Los Anglos Olympics due her country boycotting the games. Shushnova competed instead at the Friendship games which was the alternate Olympics where she won a gold with the team and a bronze in the all around.

At the age of 19 years old, Shushnova won her Olympic all around title beating her rival Daniela Silvas of Romania. Beside her Olympic title, she won a silver on beam and a bronze on uneven bars. She has won eleven World championships medals and seven European championships medals. She has also been a World and European all around champion.

Yelena has performed several unique and difficult skills. She competed a 3/4 salto which was later banned for the high risk of serious injury. 

Shushnova has debuted difficult skills, on floor exercise ” straddle jump to land in a front lying support)” , a release on the uneven bars  “back giant into full turn straddle back release move”, a mount on beam “jump to straddle planche down to straddle split on beam” .  She was also the first to do a Yurchenko vault with 1.5 twists in competition.

Shushnova showed her intentions of competing in the then next Olympic games but due to exhaustion after the Seoul Olympics she announced her retirement.

She then enrolled in a sports school with the aim of becoming a coach, but soon thereafter suffered a car accident but was not seriously injured. She fell in love with mechanic to whom she brought her car to for repairs after the accident and got married.

 Shushunova has never received the apartment that was promised to her and her family by the Soviet state as reward for her accomplishments.

Yelena Davydova of Soviet Union and Nastia Liukin of U.S won their Olympic all around title at the age of 18 in 1980 and 2008 respectively.

Written by Gigi Khaback Farid


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