Olga Korbut

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Olga Korbut
— Gymnast —
Olga Korbut on a Stamp of Azerbaijan 386.jpg
Olga Korbut during 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich on 1996 Azerbaijani stamp
Personal information
Full name Olga Valentinovna Korbut
Nickname(s) Sparrow from Minsk[1]
Country represented  Soviet Union
Born (1955-05-16) May 16, 1955 (age 63)
Hrodna, Byelorussian SSR, Soviet Union
Height 4 ft 11 in (150 cm)[1]
Weight 6 st (84 lb; 38 kg)[1]
Discipline Women's artistic gymnastics
Eponymous skills Korbut Flip
Retired 1977

Olga Valentinovna Korbut [nb 1] (born May 16, 1955 in Grodno), also known as the "Sparrow from Minsk", is a former Belarusian gymnast who 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.

Early life

Belarusian-born Korbut, who started training at age 8, 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),[2] 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.[2] With him, she learned a difficult backward somersault on the balance beam. She debuted this at a competition in the USSR in 1969. In 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.

She finished fifth at her first competition in the 1969 USSR championships, where she was allowed to compete as an underage 15-year-old.[2] 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 Olympics.


At the 1972 Olympics, Korbut's acrobatics and open high-level gymnastics brought her much fame. To this day, the tuck back 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.

During the Olympics, Korbut was one of the favourites 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 her teammate Ludmilla Tourischeva. Notwithstanding, Korbut won three gold medals for the balance beam, floor exercise and team. 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, jeer, stamp their feet, and shout vulgar remarks at the judges in disapproval, believing her score to be too low. This carried on for several minutes; however, the judges refused to change her score.[2]

Korbut is most famous for her uneven bars and balance beam routines, as well as her charismatic performances that captivated audiences.[3] 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.

Soviet coaches and officials had designated Korbut as the woman who could beat the Romanian prodigy, Nadia Comăneci, in the 1976 Summer Olympics at Montreal, 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.[2] She did collect a team gold medal, and an individual silver medal for the balance beam.

Retirement and life after the Olympics

Korbut graduated from the Grodno Pedagogical Institute in 1977, became a teacher,[2] 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, in 1979. In 1988 Korbut was the first gymnast to be inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.[4]

In 1991, worried about the effects of fallout from the Chernobyl disaster on Belarus, she and her family emigrated to the United States. They settled in New Jersey where she taught gymnastics.[5] They moved to Georgia two years later where she continued to coach. Korbut and Bortkevich divorced in 2000;[6] she became a naturalized U.S. citizen the same year.[7][8] In 2002 Korbut moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, to become head coach at Scottsdale Gymnastics and Cheerleading.[9] She now works with private gymnastics pupils and does motivational speaking.[10]

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.[3] 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.[11] 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 August 3.[12] She said "I didn't even expect this. I am so honored to be here."[13]


Korbut is a highly decorated athlete with four Olympic gold medals to her credit, but it is not this feat for which she is most remembered. The media whirl which surrounded her 1972 Olympic debut caused a surge of young girls to join their local gymnastic clubs, and a sport which had seldom been noticed previously now made headlines. 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."[14] 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.[6] In the decade after Korbut's Olympic debut, the emphasis was reversed.[2] Korbut, in her 1972, gold-medal Olympics, at 4' 11" (1 m 50 cm) and 82 pounds (37 kg), exemplified the deliberate and purposeful trend toward smaller women in sport.[15]

Eponymous skills

Vault: Handspring forward with a full twist onto the table with a full twist off, no salto (4.0)

Uneven Bars: Back flip from standing on top of high bar to regrasp the bar; no longer in the Code of Points; called the Korbut Flip

Balance Beam: Back handspring to swing down to cross straddle sit (B); also sometimes referred to as the Korbut Flip

See also


  1. Belarusian: Во́льга Валянці́наўна Ко́рбут, Volha Valancinaŭna Korbut; Russian: О́льга Валенти́новна Ко́рбут
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Doyle, Paul (6 July 2012). "50 stunning Olympic moments No47: Olga Korbut redefines gymnastics". The Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 McCarthy, Brigid (24 July 2012). "40 Years Ago, Soviet Gymnast Olga Korbut Dazzled the World". PRI's The World (Radio broadcast).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Olga Korbut". International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 14, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Longman, Jere (24 April 1991). "Olga Korbut, Now A Fearful Mother, Is Enlisting Aid For Chernobyl Victims". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 23 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tennent, Callum (6 August 2012). "Olga Korbut: 'The Sparrow from Minsk' who changed gymnastics". CNN. Retrieved 22 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Helene Elliot. "Taking a Tumble". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 15, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Ольга КОРБУТ: "Хотя я имею американское гражданство, душа у меня все равно осталась белорусской»
  9. Davis, Kristina (15 November 2002). "A party for Olga's Kids. Korbut's program funds classes for children". Arizona Republic.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Smith, Christine (23 July 2012). "Olga Korbut: Golden girl of the 1972 Olympics looks back on her glory days". The Daily Express. Retrieved 23 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "The Olympic Journey - Discover". Royal Opera House. Retrieved 31 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Butler, Lottie (1 August 2012). "Legendary Olympic gymnast Olga Korbut at ROH: Olympic hero to meet visitors at The Olympic Journey". Royal Opera House. Retrieved 31 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Korbut, Olga (3 August 2012). "Olga Korbut's Olympic Journey" (Video) (Interview). Interviewed by Glen Levy. Time.com. Retrieved 22 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Cousineau, Phil (2003). The Olympic Odyssey: Rekindling the True Spirit of the Great Games. Quest Books. p. 159. ISBN 0835608336.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links