Olga Bicherova: The Youngest Champion

By Vitali Melik-Karamov

Soviet Life, September 1982  
Olga Bicherova, a 15-year-old Moscow student (height, 1.38 meters, weight, 29.7 kilograms), was the winner of the world all-around gymnastics title for 1981.  She is the youngest champion in the history of this sport.

Her excellent performance in both the prescribed and optional routines, the intricacy of the elements in her compositions and the beauty with which she executed the movements ensured her sensational victory in a competition where the favorites were Yelena Davydova, the Soviet 1980 Olympic all-around winner, and Maxi Gnauck of the German Democratic Republic, the 1981 European titleholder.

It was only five years ago that a group of girls, including little Olga, began to be trained by 36-year-old Boris Orlov, who had been a pretty good acrobat in his time.  However, when Olga joined the group, she already had three years of practice in a gym and on a skating rink to her credit.  At the age of seven, she still wasn't sure whether it would be gymnastics or figure skating for her.  The final choice was made when Orlov began grooming her.  This deep interest in sports, however, did not prevent her from getting excellent marks in all her subjects at Moscow School No. 692.

In the beginning Orlov did not single Olga out.  She liked gymnastics very much, while he liked the way she studied very much.  They did not set themselves any major goals, although Olga showed greater purposefulness than the rest of the girls her age.

Olga Bicherova's brightness is one of her outstanding and most attractive features.  She is tremendously fond of her parents, who are electronic engineers working in a Moscow plant.  She is their only daughter.  Whereas her father, a jack-of-all-trades, goes about his work in an unhurried but highly efficient manner, her mother is always animated and lively.  Bicherova has evidently inherited her mother's character.  She told her parents not to watch her from the stands when she competed because it might make them nervous.  But they did watch on the sly and really had a hard time keeping calm when it was Olga's turn to perform.

As for Bicherova herself, she seemed to be under no psychological stress at all.  When Aman Shamiyazov, senior coach of the Soviet women's select, returned to the Ozero Krugloye (Round Lake) training center in the suburbs of Moscow late in the evening before the opening day of the competition, he saw two girls breaking the strict rules he had imposed.  The violators, engrossed in a snowball fight, were Olga Bicherova and team substitute Tatiana Frolova.  And what troubled Bicherova most of all on the second day of the competition, when she had to perform the floor exercise routine, was whether the frozen frog she had found would recover on the radiator at home.  You will understand why when I tell you that one of Bicherova's favorite subjects at school is biology.

Spectators always see a very serious Bicherova who never smiles in gymnastics competitions.  They find it hard to believe that she thoroughly enjoys funny plays and films.  Her laughter is the loudest of all her teammates.

Bicherova likes to visit her grandfather, who lives in a village outside Moscow.  Orlov says that she is ready at a moment's notice to rush out there.  Besides, she loves looking for mushrooms and picking berries.  When there is time out from training in the early afternoon, she walks in the woods.

Neither Orlov nor Olga had any idea that she would win the Moscow world championships although it had been their dearest wish.  The main goal was to qualify for the national team and go through all the routines without a fall.  Orlov believed that this was a tough enough assignment for someone appearing in the main competition of the season for the first time.

When Bicherova's mind is set on turning in a faultless performance, Orlov says, nothing can upset her, but, strangely, there are times when her own desire to surpass herself gets the better of her and she makes mistakes.

Bicherova has no ideal in gymnastics.  She explains in great detail that she likes the beautiful lines of Natalia Shaposhnikova, the enthusiasm of Maria Filatova, and the charm and kindness of Yelena Davydova.  These three young women shared the top team honors won in the Moscow world championships.  Filatova also won a gold medal at the Montreal Olympics.  As for fascinating Olga Bicherova, she has evidently now become the ideal of some other up-and-coming gymnasts.

This page was created on April 21, 2001.
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