Olga Korbut

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Olga Korbut
Olga Korbut c1972.jpg
Korbut c. 1972
Personal information
Full nameOlga Valentinovna Korbut
Nickname(s)Sparrow from Minsk [1] [2]
Country representedFlag of the Soviet Union.svg  Soviet Union
Born (1955-05-16) 16 May 1955 (age 63)
Hrodna, Byelorussian SSR, Soviet Union
Height4 ft 11 in (150 cm) [2]
Weight84 lb; 38 kg (6 st) [2]
Discipline Women's artistic gymnastics
ClubSoviet Army Grodno [1]
Head coach(es) Renald Knysh
Eponymous skills Korbut Flip
Olga Korbut at the 1972 Olympics on an Azerbaijani stamp Olga Korbut on a Stamp of Azerbaijan 386.jpg
Olga Korbut at the 1972 Olympics on an Azerbaijani stamp

Olga Valentinovna Korbut [nb 1] (born 16 May 1955) is a Belarusian former gymnast. Nicknamed the "Sparrow from Minsk", she won four gold medals and two silver medals at the Summer Olympic Games, in which she competed in 1972 and 1976 for the Soviet team, [1] and was the inaugural inductee to the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1988.

Belarus country in Eastern Europe

Belarus, officially the Republic of Belarus, formerly known by its Russian name Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk. Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested. Its major economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.

Gymnastics sport

Gymnastics is a sport that includes exercises requiring balance, strength, flexibility, agility, coordination and endurance. The movements involved in gymnastics contribute to the development of the arms, legs, shoulders, back, chest and abdominal muscle groups. Alertness, precision, daring, self-confidence and self-discipline are mental traits that can also be developed through gymnastics. Gymnastics evolved from exercises used by the ancient Greeks that included skills for mounting and dismounting a horse, and from circus performance skills

Sparrow family of songbirds

Sparrows are a family of small passerine birds. They are also known as true sparrows, or Old World sparrows, names also used for a particular genus of the family, Passer. They are distinct from both the American sparrows, in the family Passerellidae, and from a few other birds sharing their name, such as the Java sparrow of the family Estrildidae. Many species nest on buildings and the house and Eurasian tree sparrows, in particular, inhabit cities in large numbers, so sparrows are among the most familiar of all wild birds. They are primarily seed-eaters, though they also consume small insects. Some species scavenge for food around cities and, like gulls or rock doves will happily eat virtually anything in small quantities.


While Korbut retired from gymnastics in 1977 at the age of 22, which was considered young for gymnasts of the period, [3] Korbut's influence and legacy in gymnastics was far reaching. [4] Korbut's 1972 Olympic performances are widely credited as redefining gymnastics, changing the sport from emphasising ballet and elegance to acrobatics and technique, as well as changing popular opinion of gymnastics from a niche sport to one of the most popular sports in the world. [3]

At the 1972 Summer Olympics, fourteen different artistic gymnastics events were contested, eight for men and six for women. All events were held at the Sports Hall in Munich from August 27 through September 1.

Early life

Korbut was born in Grodno to Valentin and Valentina Korbut. After World War II, the family moved to Grodno from Dubniaki [5] (small town near Kalinkavichy). She started training at age 8, and entered a Belarusian sports school headed by coach Renald Knysh at age 9. There, Korbut's first trainer was Elena Volchetskaya, an Olympic gold medalist (1964), [3] but she was moved to Knysh's group a year later. Initially he found her "lazy and capricious" but he also saw potential in her great talent, unusually supple spine, and charisma. [3] With him, she learned a difficult backward somersault on the balance beam. She debuted this at a competition in the USSR in 1969. The same year, Korbut completed a backflip-to-catch on the uneven bars; this was the first backward release move ever performed by a woman on bars.[ citation needed ]

Grodno Place in Grodno Region, Belarus

Grodno, or Hrodna is a city in western Belarus. It is located on the Neman close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania. It has 373,547 inhabitants. It is the capital of Grodno Region and Grodno District.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Kalinkavichy Place in Gomel Region, Belarus

Kalinkavičy is a town in the Gomel Region of south-eastern Belarus. Kalinkavičy is located beside the Pripyat River, opposite the town of Mazyr, and is the site of one of country's most important railway junctions. It has a population of 37,876. It has suffered radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl disaster.

She finished fifth at her first competition in the 1969 USSR championships, where she was allowed to compete as a 15-year-old. [3] The next year, she won a gold medal in the vault. Due to illness and injury, she was unable to compete in many of the competitions before the 1972 Summer Olympics.[ citation needed ]

Vault (gymnastics) gymnastics apparatus; skill

The vault is an artistic gymnastics apparatus on which gymnasts perform, as well as the skill performed using that apparatus. Vaulting is also the action of performing a vault. Both male and female gymnasts perform the vault. The English abbreviation for the event in gymnastics scoring is VT

1972 Summer Olympics Games of the XX Olympiad, held in Munich in 1972

The 1972 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XX Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event held in Munich, West Germany, from August 26 to September 11, 1972.


At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Korbut's acrobatics and open high-level gymnastics brought her much fame. To this day, the back tuck and Korbut Flip are still very popular (2003 world beam champion Fan Ye performed both in her routine). This excellence in technical skills overthrew the sport's traditional emphasis on artistry.[ citation needed ]

Munich Capital and most populous city of Bavaria, Germany

Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Fan Ye (simplified Chinese: 范晔; traditional Chinese: 范曄; pinyin: Fàn Yè; born October 23, 1986 in Baoding, Hebei, China. She is a former Chinese gymnast who is coached by Liu Guicheng and He Hua in Beijing. She admires fellow Chinese gymnast Liu Xuan and Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina for the longevity of their involvement in the sport.

During the Olympics, Korbut was one of the favorites for the all-around after her dynamic performance in the team competition; however, she missed her mount on bars three times and the title went to teammate Ludmilla Tourischeva. That said, Korbut won three gold medals for the balance beam, floor exercise, and team competitions. In one of the most controversial finishes of all time, she took a silver medal in the uneven bars. Korbut's first attempt at her uneven bars routine was marred by several mistakes which all but ended her chances of winning a gold medal in the all-around. The next day, Korbut repeated the same routine in the event finals, although this time successfully. After the boards displayed a score of 9.8, the audience began to whistle and shout vulgar remarks at the judges in disapproval, believing her score to be too low. This carried on for several minutes but the judges refused to change her score. [3]

Ludmilla Tourischeva Russian gymnast

Ludmilla Ivanovna Tourischeva, born October 7, 1952, is a former Russian gymnast and a nine-time Olympic medalist for the Soviet Union.

Floor (gymnastics) event in gymnastics performed on a specially prepared exercise surface

In gymnastics, the floor refers to a specially prepared exercise surface, which is considered an apparatus. It is used by both male and female gymnasts. The event in gymnastics performed on floor is called floor exercise. The English abbreviation for the event in gymnastics scoring is FX.

Korbut is most famous for her uneven bars and balance beam routines, as well as her charismatic performances that captivated audiences. [4] Her Olympic achievement earned her ABC's Wide World of Sports title of Athlete of the Year. In 1973, she won the Russian and World Student (i.e., University) Games, and a silver medal in the all-around at the European Championships.[ citation needed ]

At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Soviet coaches and officials had designated Korbut as the woman who could beat the Romanian prodigy, Nadia Comăneci, but Korbut was injured and her performances in the games were sub-par. She was overshadowed not only by Comăneci, but also by her own teammate Nellie Kim. [3] She did collect a team gold medal, and an individual silver medal for the balance beam.[ citation needed ]

Retirement and life after the Olympics

Korbut graduated from the Grodno Pedagogical Institute in 1977, became a teacher, [3] and retired from gymnastic competition thereafter. She married Leonid Bortkevich, who was a member of Belarusian folk band Pesniary. The couple had a son, Richard, born in 1979. In 1988 Korbut was the first gymnast to be inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. [6]

In 1991, she and her family emigrated to the United States, because they were worried about the effects of fallout from the Chernobyl disaster on Belarus. They settled in New Jersey, where she taught gymnastics. [7] They moved to Georgia two years later where she continued to coach. Korbut and Bortkevich divorced in 2000; [8] she became a naturalized U.S. citizen the same year. [9] [10] In 2002 Korbut moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, to become head coach at Scottsdale Gymnastics and Cheerleading. Korbut faced Darva Conger on an episode of Celebrity Boxing which aired on May 22, 2002. Conger won by unanimous decision. [11] Korbut lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. [12] [13] She now works with private gymnastics pupils and does motivational speaking. [14]

Korbut traveled to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. She watched the gymnastics competitions in the North Greenwich Arena, providing commentary by way of Twitter and Facebook. [4] During the Olympics the Royal Opera House hosted an exhibit it created with the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, titled The Olympic Journey, The Story of the Games. [15] As well as historical artifacts, the exhibit featured the personal stories of 16 Olympic medalists, including Korbut. Korbut celebrated the 40th anniversary of her Olympic victories with an appearance at the exhibition on 3 August. [16] She said "I didn't even expect this. I am so honored to be here." [17]

In 2017, Korbut sold her 1972 and 1976 Olympic medals amongst thirty-two lots (including two golds and a silver from the Munich Olympics) which fetched $333,500 at Heritage Auctions. This was reportedly done "to save her from hunger" though auction house spokesman Elon Werner and Korbut herself have strongly denied this claim. [18] [19] [20] [21]

In 1999 she spoke out about alleged sexual assault and rape she suffered at the hands of her coach, Renald Knysh, which he denied. Later in 2018 Korbut appeared in a TV show in which she again spoke out about several incidents in which she alleged that her coach sexually assaulted her. As a result of Korbut speaking out publicly, several other gymnasts who had also trained under Knysh spoke of similar incidents corroborating Korbut's allegations. [22]


A wax figure of Korbut at Madame Tussauds in London Madame Tussauds London 00813 Nevit.jpg
A wax figure of Korbut at Madame Tussauds in London

Korbut, who has won four Olympic gold medals, is best known for her move, the "Korbut flip", a backflip performed on the uneven parallel bars, starting from a standing position on the high bar and then catching the same bar from below on the under swing. Named after Korbut since she was the first to perform the skill at an international competition in 1972, the move has since been made illegal in the Olympic Code of Points. [8] After the 1972 Olympic competition, she also met United States President Richard Nixon at the White House. About the meeting, Korbut said: "He told me that my performance in Munich did more for reducing the political tension during the Cold War between our two countries than the embassies were able to do in five years." [23] In addition to greatly publicizing gymnastics worldwide, she also contributed to a marked change in the tenor of the sport itself. Prior to 1972, the athletes were generally older and the focus was on elegance rather than acrobatics. [8] In the decade after Korbut's Olympic debut, the emphasis was reversed. [3] Korbut, in her 1972, gold-medal Olympics, at 4 ft 11 in (1.50 m) and 82 pounds (37 kg), exemplified the deliberate and purposeful trend toward smaller women in the sport. [24]

Eponymous skills

In a Peanuts comic strip published on May 15, 1973, the character Snoopy is seen doing balance beam positions with flawless precision on top of his doghouse for three panels until coming to a rest in the fourth one saying: "Olga Korbut has been bugging me for lessons!" [25]

See also


  1. Belarusian: Во́льга Валянці́наўна Ко́рбут, Volha Valancinaŭna Korbut; Russian: Ольга Валентиновна Корбут

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  1. 1 2 3 Olga Korbut. Sports Reference
  2. 1 2 3 Thomas, David (27 July 2012). "Legends who fell to earth: Bankruptcy, shoplifting, adultery and disgrace. Which Olympians stayed on track – and which didn't?". Daily Mail . Associated Newspapers . Retrieved 25 September 2014.
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  5. "Варатын". www.knews.by (in Russian). Retrieved 2017-10-15.
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  19. Советская гимнастка Корбут продала олимпийские медали с аукциона на общую сумму $230 тыс. tass.ru (27 February 2017)
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  22. "#MeToo In Belarus: Ex-Teammates Bolster Korbut's Sexual-Assault Charges Against Coach". Radio Free Europe. 16 May 2018. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
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  24. Howell, Colin D. (2001). Blood, Sweat, and Cheers: Sport and the Making of Modern Canada. University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. p. 122. ISBN   0802082483.
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Further reading