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[an error occurred while processing this directive] Monday, 27 August, 2001, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Korbut: an unlikely hero
Olga (second right) and the Russian team in 1975
Olga (second right) and the Russian team in 1975
Reputations: Olga Korbut - The Gymnast, Her Coach, Her Rival And The President is broadcast on BBC Two on Tuesday 28 August at 2100 BST.

Russian athlete Olga Korbut began a tiny thaw in the Cold War when she captivated the world with her performance at the 1972 Olympics.

In a BBC Two documentary, she reveals the true cost of Olympic gold.

Olga was born in Grodno, in what is now the republic of Belarus, in May 1955.

By the tender age of eight, she had already won a coveted place in the top sports school run by Renald Knysh, who became her coach.

Korbut took gold in 1972
Korbut took gold in 1972
Knysh was a hard taskmaster and during her gruelling regime of strict diets and almost military training, Olga secretly smoked to control her weight.

The turning point for Olga was at the Munich Olympics in 1972:

After helping the Soviet team claim gold, a mediocre score in her individual bar routine meant her hopes of a second gold looked slim.

Just 24 hours later, Olga staged one of the most incredible comebacks in gymnastics history, winning two gold medals and a silver in individual apparatus events.

She was the first to perform a daring back somersault on a balance beam and she looked, said one spellbound commentator, "like a kid playing in the sun".

Her stardom was frowned upon in the frosty political climate of her homeland, but she became America's darling and several accolades followed.

She became the first person from the Eastern bloc to win the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Award and the Associated Press voted her the 1972 Female Athlete of the Year.

Young girls everywhere found a mentor, inspiring one US official to remark: "Before Olga came on to the scene, there were fewer than 15,000 American female gymnasts.

"Two years after the Munich Games, there were 50,000."


"I want to be remembered as an innovator"
Olga Korbut
Olga herself recalls: "After the Munich Games, I was brought to the White House to meet President Nixon.

"He told me that my performance in Munich did more for reducing the political tension during the Cold War than the embassies were able to do in five years."

Olga retired in 1977 but remained a prominent national figure, raising money for the victims of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Two years later, she became the first inductee in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Olga emigrated to the USA in 1990 with her husband and their son and now teaches gymnastics near their home in Atlanta.

Recently Olga admitted that she still strives to be an inspiration.

She said: "Even today, I am still looking for something new to train my students.

"What I did in Munich was a novelty to the gymnastic world and I want to be remembered as an innovator because of it."

See also:

04 Jul 01 |  Olympic Votes
Athens to Seoul
23 Sep 00 |  BBC Team
Rider's legends: Nadia Comaneci
03 Sep 00 |  Olympics2000
The Munich massacre
10 Aug 00 |  History
Munich 1972
10 Aug 00 |  History
Montreal 1976
09 Aug 00 |  Gymnastics
Where are they now?
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