Olga Mostepanova Plays Second Fiddle

December 24th, 2008 by Gymbit

Three years ago on Christmas Eve, the mysterious black-and-white videos of the 1984 Friendship Games in Olomouc were suddenly unveiled. Indeed, there had been question as to whether or not footage of this competition actually existed, and discussions surrounding its whereabouts frequently popped up on gymnastics message boards.

Gymnasts from behind the Iron Curtain gathered in the Czechoslovakian city as an alternative to the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. One notable exception was the Romanian team, which chose to compete in Los Angeles, but other strong teams such as the Soviets, East Germans, Czechoslovakians and Hungarians showed up in Olomouc to compete for medals.

Olga Mostepanova of the Soviet Union was the class of the women’s field in Olomouc, making history with her unbeatable score of 40.00! This is the first and only time a gymnast has achieved true perfection across all four events. Though there were still some memorable performances in Los Angeles, the Soviets’ winning combination of artistry and athleticism was sorely missed. Despite having the competition of her life to take the gold medal, Mary Lou Retton would not be the household name she is today had these Olympic Games been fully attended.

As you watch the first clip, take note of Mostepanova’s extension and amplitude. Her opening sequence is as difficult as any performed today, and though the skill at 0:14 is credited to Henrietta Onodi in the Code of Points, Mostepanova was in fact the first to perform this Arabian handspring in international competition. (Even Onodi herself refers to the “Onodi” as a “Mostepanova”!)

Olga Mostepanova, 1984 Friendship Games, Balance Beam

Irina Baraksanova, also representing the Soviet Union at the Friendship Games, displayed some exquisite floor work. Her team won the gold medal with a total of 395.25 out of a possible 400.00 points.

Irina Baraksanova, 1984 Friendship Games, Floor Exercise

The long lines of the Eastern bloc gymnasts stand in stark contrast to the powerful performances of Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton. She was able to take advantage of the home crowd and the absence of many top gymnasts in order to secure the title.

Mary Lou Retton, 1984 Olympic Games, Balance Beam

Though true fans of gymnastics are undoubtedly thrilled that the rare footage of the Friendship Games has been released two decades later, one can’t help but wonder how the Olympic medal tallies would be different had all the countries of the world participated. It would have been nice for the Soviet, East German, Czechoslovakian and Hungarian gymnasts to showcase their talent on the biggest of world stages, and to have their efforts appreciated on a global scale.

4 Responses to “Olga Mostepanova Plays Second Fiddle”

  1. RJL Says:

    Interesting post! I don’t think most people even know the Friendship Games took place. Did Mostepanova and Retton ever compete against each other? Do you think Mostepanova (and the other Soviets) had the experience to deal with the pressure of the LA Olympics? The Russian team didn’t do that well with the rowdy American crowd in Atlanta in 1996…

  2. Gymbit Says:

    Hello RJL,

    As far as I know, Mostepanova and Retton never had a chance to compete against each other. Retton was injured for the 1983 World Championships, and she didn’t compete at the 1982 or 1983 USA-USSR Dual Meets attended by Mostepanova.

    I do believe that Mostepanova had the experience and mental game to successfully compete at the 1984 Olympic Games. She was already competing internationally in 1979 and had good results at various USSR Championships and Cup (and we all know how tough the competition was in the 1980s!). At the 1983 World Championships she won four medals, including the Silver medal in the All-Around behind teammate Natalia Yurchenko.

    We’ll never know how the Soviet team would have competed in Los Angeles and how rowdy the crowd would have been, but one thing is for sure: the Soviets always showed up prepared!

    Thanks for your comments!


  3. Zach Says:

    Gymbit..thanx for the post. Ive heard of olga mosteponova before and i know though she was beaten by natalia yurchenko, she was a more consistent performer. One thing i love about russians women gymnasts is that they are elegant performers (except shoushounova: more of powerful type), as are the romanians. they are so nice to watch. the choreography in the floor ex is more like a dance. US gymnasts tend to be more powerful performer (retton, zmeskal, johnson) except for the elegance of shannon miller and nastia liukin.

  4. Gymbit Says:

    Hi Zach,

    Thanks for your comment! I agree that most of the former Soviets and even many of the current Russians and Ukrainians present the artistic side, whereas the Americans place more emphasis on the more powerful aspects of gymnastics such as the tumbling. The current Code of Points isn’t so great for the fans who prefer elegance, however, since it rewards difficulty over innovation. Which floor routines have you most enjoyed watching over the years?


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