Gymnast Lyudmila Turishcheva

By Nina Kolesnikova


Soviet Life, August 1975    When Lyudmila Turishcheva won her first national gymnastics championship in 1968, a newspaper headline described her as the Formidable Girl from Formidable City -- a pun based on the name of her home town, Grozny.  People who new her as a shy little girl with white ribbons in her hair were amused: Lyudmila seemed to find it easier to talk about the combinations that won her 9.9 points than to tell the newspaper reporters about herself.

Her friends, rivals, and her coach Vladislav Rastorotsky had all seen evidence of the strength of character behind that shyness.  This quiet 15-year-old had resolution to spare.  "I've had more capable pupils," Rastorotsky recalls, "but nobody who worked harder.  I never had to tell her anything twice.  Like everyone else, she makes mistakes, but when she understands what's wrong she works like a beaver to correct it."

All of Lyudmila's marks in high school were "excellent."  That seems to be the only way she can do a job.  It must have taken enormous application, because to achieve the kind of rating that she did at 17, a gymnast must train daily and frequently miss classes when she takes part in competitions.  After high school Turishcheva -- now 23 -- attended a teachers institute.  She is now doing graduate work.  The subject of her thesis is the psychology of sports.

On the eve of the 1973 European Championship in London, gymnastics fans wondered whether Turishcheva would be able to hold on to the title she had won two years earlier.  Or would "the little elf," as the London newspapers called Olga Korbut, beat her famous rival?  At a press conference before the competition, Turishcheva was asked what she thought of her chances.  "I'll try to win," she replied quietly.

She could not help feeling that the sympathy of Londoners was with Olga -- Olga's picture was in all the papers, a film about her was shown on TV, she was the center of attention at training sessions.  But Turishcheva won the European Cup.  From the first to the last apparatus, she held tight to her control and to those "extra" two-tenths of a point that she had earned at the beginning of the competition.  "England has finally discovered Turishcheva!" wrote the London newspapers, making up for their earlier neglect.

On the second day of the tournament Olga Korbut hurt her foot and could not compete in other events on the program which might have compensated for the loss of the over-all championship (as at the Munich Olympics).  At a press conference after the competition, Turishcheva was asked:  "If Korbut hadn't hurt her foot, what would the results have been?"

"If she had fought till the end," Turishcheva replied, "it would have been more interesting for me."

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the champion is that after several years of strenuous training and competition, she has lost none of her love for the sport.  She will probably compete in the Olympic Games in Montreal next year.  This will be her third Olympics -- few athletes today can match that record.

Turishcheva's skill is combined with a rare consistency.  When performing her very difficult combinations, she seldom makes a mistake, and if she does, more often than not it is minor.  "But supposing you did fall or lose your balance -- you had to do the same element again?" I asked her once.  She answered, thoughtfully, "To avoid that, the mistake you made must be analyzed and then quickly forgotten.  Othersiwe your failure grows into a 'complex' and you lose confidence.  My trainer taught me that."

There is a rare accord here between coach and gymnast.  They have worked together for eight years.  Rastorotsky saw his pupil grow up and win recognition while he advanced as a coach, teacher and specialist in gymnastics.  Once a coach at a children's sports school no one had ever hear of, Rastorotsky is now a famous sports figure. 

One other point.  In all her years of training and competition Turishcheva has never had a serious accident, thought she learns and performs very risky, sometimes unique, exercises.  This speaks well for the system worked out by Rastorotsky, which permits the gymnast to progress slowly but steadily to the heights of her skill.

She does not smile often, and never simply to charm, or influence people.  But when a smile does light her face, her eyes shine and dimples appear in her cheeks....

Turishcheva is sometimes asked, "You have won all the sports titles possible.  What would you like to do next?"  This is when she smiles and replies, "I'd like to do everything all over again."

She knows her value.  It was during a talk about her that Larissa Latynina, a senior coach of the Soviet national gymnastics team and a former world and Olympics champion, said, "A true leader in sports is someone who never gets rattled at a decisive moment in the competition."  Turishcheva has proved herself a real leader and formidable opponent.

This page was created on March 13, 2001.
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