Olga Korbut. Photo unattributed – Wikimedia Commons

Top 10 Fascinating Facts about Olga Korbut


Olga Korbut became the star of the 1972 Munich Games with a series of dramatic performances. She captured the public imagination with her charismatic and daring performances in the team competition at the 1972 Munich Games, aged just 17 years old.

After her spectacular routine on the uneven parallel bars, Korbut later recalled, “It was amazing. One day, I was a nobody, and the next day, I was a star.”

1. Korbut made three errors on the uneven bars

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L0901-0201, XX. Olympiade, DDR-Turnerinnen, Karin Janz, Goldmedaille. Photo unattributed – Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately in the individual final two days later, disaster struck. Korbut made three errors on the uneven bars, the judges gave her a score of 7.5 and she wept with disappointment as she dropped to seventh place.

 Yet she recovered to claim gold in the floor exercise and beam to add to her victory in the team competition.

2. Olga Korbut became the first gymnast to perform a backflip

Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut salutes the audience at an exhibition in Milan, Italy. Photo by Klaus Zaugg – Wikimedia Commons

Olga Korbut was the 17-year-old who became the first gymnast to perform a back flip to catch on the uneven bars. In her honor, the move has since become known as the Korbut Flip. Confirming her daring nature, she was also the first to do a backward somersault on the beam.

3. Korbut was overshadowed by Romanian Nadia Comâneci’s astonishing “perfect 10” score

1972 Press Photo Olga Korbut of Russia Cries After Losing Lead in the Olympics. Photo by UPI Photos – Wikimedia Commons

At the 1976 Montreal Games, Korbut was overshadowed by Romanian Nadia Comâneci’s astonishing “perfect 10” score. Nonetheless, Korbut still won the gold medal in the team event and silver on the beam.

Olga Korbut’s Olympic debut at the 1972 Munich Games earned her gymnastic gold medals for the beam, floor exercise, and team competition. But it was the technical daring and emotional impact of this tiny 17-year-old Soviet athlete – known as the Sparrow from Minsk – which was to create a lasting legacy in the history of the sport.

4. Korbut created an uproar at her first event in Munich

Historic Images 1988 Press Photo Former Olympic Gymnast Olga Korbut. Photo by Richard Kendzierski – Wikimedia Commons

In her first event in Munich, Korbut created uproar as she successfully performed something that no one had tried at an international competition: a backward flip on the 4.5-thick beams.

When she slipped and made several errors in the uneven bars, effectively ending her winning chances in the all-around competition where gold went to team-mate Lyudmila Tourischeva, she publicly wept.

 At the next day’s final of the bars, however, she unleashed the “Korbut flip” – a unique standing-back somersault move that had never been seen before. To huge crowd disapproval, her score only earned her silver.

5. She earned a home victory at the Universiade in Moscow

Ove Wisløff and Olga Korbut 1976. Press Photo Soviet Gymnast Olga Korbut Olympics. Photo unattributed – Wikimedia Commons

In 1973, she earned home victory at the Universiade in Moscow with a performance that was described as “even more spectacular than Munich”.

Hampered by injury at the 1976 Olympics, she nevertheless added another gold in the team event and took silver in the beam. Korbut graduated from the Grodno Pedagogical Institute in 1977 and retired from gymnastics to become a teacher.

6. Olga Korbut captured three gold medals and one silver at the l972 games

1973 Press Photo President Richard Nixon and gymnast Olga Korbut. Photo unattributed – Wikimedia Commons

Forty years ago, a tiny pigtailed gymnast from the Soviet Union was the darling of the Munich Olympics. Olga Korbut captured three gold medals and one silver at the l972 games. She also inspired tens of thousands of little girls all over the world to take up the sport.

 Olga Korbut seemed to come out of nowhere. She was 17 years old, 4-foot-11, and as slender as a sparrow.

7. Olga Korbut now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona

Olga Korbut at Madame Tussauds London. Photograph of a wax sculpture of gymnast Olga Korbut on a balance beam at Madame Tussauds, London. Photo by Nevit Dilmen – Wikimedia Commons

During her first routine on the balance beam, she executed a move never before seen in an Olympic competition: a backward aerial somersault. Olympic announcers went wild. Olga Korbut, who now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, says of that moment, “I can’t believe I did it like that. This girl is good!”

 Korbut then did something even more astonishing on the uneven bars, a move that was subsequently banned because it was so dangerous. Standing on the top bar, she dived backward, and somehow managed to arch around and catch the bar with her hands.

One announcer said at the time that the move had never been done by any human that he knew of. “Those kinds of comments just excited and ignited the public in no way we’d ever seen before,” said Paul Ziert, publisher of International Gymnast Magazine and a former Olympic coach.

 He said Olga Korbut didn’t just dazzle everyone with her acrobatics. “I think the most interesting thing for most of us was how different she was from the stereotypical Soviet gymnast.”

8. She was wild and unpredictable, and utterly charismatic

Stamp of Azerbaijan. Photo unattributed – Wikimedia Commons

 She was wild and unpredictable, and utterly charismatic. The crowd loved her even when she stumbled.

“And of course that wonderful scene when she burst into tears, we didn’t think during the Cold War like that the Soviets had any ability to show any emotion publicly like that,” said Ziert. Soviet gymnasts might have been poker-faced.

But they always took home the gold. “At that time, the Soviet team was the best,” Korbut said from her home in Scottsdale. In fact, Soviet gymnasts dominated the Olympic competition for decades. It’s just that no one else paid very much attention until Olga Korbut came along. But Paul Ziert said the sport was always popular in the USSR. “They did gymnastics the right way.

9. Olga Korbut began training at one of the Soviet Union’s elite gymnastic schools

President Richard Nixon Standing in the Oval Office with Members of the Soviet Women’s Gymnastics Team, Olympic Gold Medalist Olga Korbut Stands next to Richard Nixon, 3/21/1973. Photo unattributed – Wikimedia Commons

It might not have been easy for the athletes, but my goodness, they were all trained classically in ballet and all the basic skills were taught perfectly.” Olga Korbut began training at one of the Soviet Union’s elite gymnastic schools when she was nine.

The youngest of four girls, she says her mother didn’t even know she took gymnastics until she saw Olga perform on TV. “Because my mother and father worked very hard, four kids, and we were poor,” she said.

After the Munich Olympics, President Nixon invited Korbut to the White House. “You are a little girl,” he quipped, to which she replied, “You are a big boy.”

10. Korbut made the Soviet Olympic team again in l976

Olga Korbut at Madame Tussauds London – November 1st, 2016. Photo by Luke Rauscher – Wikimedia Commons

 Korbut made the Soviet Olympic team again in l976, but she retired from competition after a disappointing showing in Montreal. She then became the head coach for the Soviet Byelorussian team.

 She was living in Minsk with her husband and young son during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in l986. Much of the radioactive fallout landed in nearby Belarus.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in l991, Korbut and her family moved to the United States. “Actually, I didn’t want to leave the country, but I raise money to help victims of Chernobyl, and I was in the United States a lot,” she said. She ended up staying and teaching gymnastics. She became an American citizen in 2000.

 Olga Korbut was named one of Sports Illustrated’s 40 greatest athletes in l994 and was the first person inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Now 57, she still teaches, and she’s still incredibly fit. “I work out every day because my body needs that,” she said. And she’s still passionate about gymnastics.