One Coach’s Journey from East to West: 

How the Fall of the Iron Curtain Changed the World of Gymnastics

(The most informative text excerpts from the full manuscript)

[…] In America, once gymnastics as a mass phenomenon began to develop momentum, it naturally achieved a level of popularity that may not have rivaled that of football or baseball, but still gave it a place of honor among sports. Americans love to see strong and confident people compete. From childhood Americans are taught that they must WIN and BE STRONG. 


[…] Artistic masterpieces have been created throughout time and by all peoples. But when we talk about them, we somehow forget about countries and historical periods. We simply marvel at them and the people who created them. The history of the masterworks of gymnastics is akin to the history of art itself. 


[…] In my opinion, it is naïve to think that there is a specific recipe for producing champions and that everything depends on the qualifications of the coach and the talent of the athletes. If a country’s goal is to dominate for years or even decades, and not just an instant or a day, it will take more than a single genius to build a national gymnastics program.


[…] American gymnastics needed COLLECTIVE INTERNATIONAL GENIUS and it came together in the United States and found fertile ground there.


[…] Our native language is perhaps the most important thing helping us stay in touch with our roots. As a Russian, I am proud that I speak the language of Alexander Pushkin, Lev Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. I am transported at the sound of a waltz by Georgy Sviridov, I delight at the prose of Mikhail Bulgakov, and thrill to the sound of Russian classics by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rakhmaninov.


[…] in late 1991 the Soviet Union, home to more than 200 million people, ceased to exist as a state. Russia became its successor state, with new leadership, new laws, and new presidents and prime ministers. This was when the many little streams of the best minds and hands of Russia – minds and hands that had created advanced technology in all the branches of modern industry and science – turned into a flood, sweeping this talent out of the United States of Great Russia to another United States – the United States of America. 


[…] Yes, it is the availability of work that became the determining factor in the success of the American economy and culture and served as the real motivation for countless immigrants to come to the U.S. 


[…] It is impossible not to marvel at the Korbut flip and Tkachev release, the Kim Salto and the Yurchenko vault, the floor exercises of Elvira Saadi and the triple salto of Valeri Liukin, Gennady Yakunin’s dismount from the high bar, the gracefulness of Lydia Gorbik-Tkacheva, the Marinitch salto and the rebirth of the gymnastics genius Dmitry Bilozerchev. This is just a small portion of everything that I have seen that I would like to share with my current readers. 


[…] America did not need “big names” to lend prestige to its country’s gymnastics. What it needed was “young, hungry lions,” hard workers ready to fully devote themselves to their new jobs. Who better to fill this role than outstanding athletes, who themselves have known what it feels like to stand on the winner’s podium as the flag of their country is raised and their national anthem sounds at the World Championships or Olympic Games.


[…]  And America got what it wanted: talented people who were strong and goal-driven, who loved glory and respect in the best sense, and, most important, who had what it takes to win. Back home they had triumphed as athletes. Here in America they learned to win as coaches.


[…]  Many of those who participated in such short-term commercial trips eventually wound up on a long-term commercial trip, and not just to any country, but to one of the richest countries in the world – the United States of America. They became “free people in a free country” and gained the opportunity to live with dignity and pursue the work they loved. In making this choice they were following the most basic of human principles: that people should be able to do what they are best suited for and live where is best for them. 


[…]  Was Russia a poorer place after it lost so much gymnastics talent? In a sense, yes – but overall it was not left impoverished. Just as it is impossible to fully exhaust Russia’s deposits of oil and natural gas, of gold and precious metals, of diamonds and emeralds, so too is it impossible to imagine Russia drained of its main asset and treasure – its people: talented and hardworking, beautiful and strong, patient and never despondent. I was born and grew up in this country. This is how I think of my country and how it will forever remain in my memory.  


[…]  There is a Russian saying: “may the hand that gives prosper.” I have always lived by the principle that it is better to give than to receive. This is why, in offering the American reader a window into the world of gymnastics, I have tried share my life experience and my professional abilities and skills not just as a resource to provide insight into methodology, but as a practical guide to working with gymnasts at any level. 


[…]  I dedicate this book to all those who have worked hard and are still working for the good of the sport, for its development, for those who have added to and continue to add to its achievements: gymnasts, coaches, choreographers, acrobatics coaches, sports medicine doctors, massage therapists, parents, and all the fans of gymnastics no matter what language they speak and where they were born, grew up, and work.


[…]  In America, gymnastics clubs have found a good way to adapt children to the unfamiliar conditions of the “alien” territory of the gymnasium by including parents in classes for the youngest gymnasts. It’s a simple approach: Mommy and Daddy practice with the children and seem to be having just as much fun as the little ones.


[…]  Children are children, and it doesn’t matter if you have the daughter of a famous rock star or the son of a delivery truck driver mimicking what the teacher is demonstrating or repeating the words of popular children’s songs, which are a common feature of such classes. Here in America everyone will be given the same attention, and all the children, without exception, and their parents, will take great pleasure in studying gymnastics. 


[…]  You might wonder what skyscrapers are doing in a book about gymnastics. They are the unique creations of American architects and builders who believed they were possible. How small a person feels among these steel giants! But little by little people get used to them and what was once a bit frightening starts to inspire with its monumentality and power. They are not as big as they first seemed! And this is exactly what happens to a small child first entering the world of advanced gymnastics. But if we’re talking about children selected for specialized training perhaps we should put this another way: They are not as small as they first seemed! 


[…]  If anyone detects that a coach isn’t in perfect health, better to cut class short or not start it at all! While Daddy is always forgiven and given credit for being eternally “right,” coaches have to prove themselves every day and are constantly having to demonstrate that they are up to the job at any given moment.


[…]  The best coaches marshal their patience and work in accordance with the highest standards of coaching. They hope and wait for that most important moment in the lives of children and coaches – the moment of triumph!


[…]  The early immersion scenario described above is quite typical for elite gymnastics in America today. Changes to the rules introduced by the FIG have led to a dramatic increase in how challenging exercises are and pushed lower the age of potential stars.


[…] As someone who knows a thing or two about early immersion I can at least give some advice to young coaches who feel it is the only effective way to work with young children. Don’t rush!  


[…]   It is pretty clear that in America, “fun” is a required component of any public event, television talk show, or spectacles like the Academy Awards. In the United States, the “fun effect” has become a national tradition: smiling from TV screens and billboards with glistening white teeth, Americans not only create the impression that they are the happiest people on the planet – they actually are! 


[…]  Dynamo’s Olympic Reserve Group was a unique prototype of a sports boarding school where everything was self-contained and meticulously conceived.


[…]  I can attest that every one of the children without exception attended school. Sometimes, if the need arose, teachers came and taught additional classes right in the dormitory. The system was excellent and in many ways resembled the “Home School” approach currently popular in America.


[…]  Unfortunately, not everything I learned while I was involved in designing training programs for talented children can be transplanted to American soil.


[…]  Today everyone agrees that the Dynamo spetsgroup was established as an alternative to the year-round training of gymnasts that took place at the Ozero Krugloye training facility, which was under centralized control.


[…]  My advice would be to not be afraid to start from the beginning, not just “from scratch,” but with the parents!


[…]  I’m referring to things like the Hot Shots classes popular in America, for which children are specially selected. It is best to entrust such work to experienced coaches who have been through all levels of training and are well-grounded in issues of selection and, most important, capable of seeing the prospects for each child involved in early immersion. 


[…]  Personally, I am not a fan of the so-called “home gymnastics studios” some families have.


[…]  My advice is that coaches not become too focused on any single exceptional athlete. Try not to exaggerate talent and take it as it comes. Give all the children the same attention, and, as time goes by, life will show who is truly capable and who is not, who will sail on with you, and who will jump ship.


[…]  I must say that in the years I have been working in the United States I have arrived at the conclusion that in selecting children for early immersion, the first priority should be physical strength.


[…]  I would also like to point out that Svetlana Boginskaya “stretched out” as a result of her gymnastics training… And I would like to comment that anyone born with a name like hers is bound to fit it. People even called her “the Goddess,” using the root of her last name as a way of acknowledging her natural beauty and exceptional spirituality. It is also worth mentioning that a lot of celebrities undergo plastic surgery because they want the same mouth and eyes that are Svetlana’s God-given gifts. 


[…]  “Yurchik” is what Vladislav Rastorotsky – who looked rather stern and intimidating, but in fact was a very kind and caring person – affectionately called Natasha. Yurchik was a trailblazer when it came to showing what true greatness is capable of!


[…]  Yes, Natasha Yurchenko was one of the trailblazers of this group of vaults, but not because she was not able to perform a variety of elaborate handspring and round-off vaults.


[…]  Of course, it is we foreigners who sometimes resort to simplified gymnastics language and at times our technical explanations or corrections are not as clear and concise as they would have been had we been speaking our native language.


[…]  In my opinion, serious problems mastering simple basic exercises most often arise (sometimes even leading to an out and out refusal to perform these exercises) in cases where the coach adds complexity to a basic skill too early, putting the skill beyond the gymnast’s reach.


[…]  Most important, children must be physically ready first to meet the demands of holding the given stance and second of maintaining it for a particular length of time.


[…]  Children are not satellites, and we should not be launching them into orbit, although as in the case of satellites, when we do “launch” them, we should put a lot of work and preparation into making sure they’re ready.


[…]  I consider Gary Goodson’s work to introduce profile exercises in America to be of titanic importance. These types of exercises are not simply well-known as components of a gymnast’s basic preparation, but are part of an entire training system called the “Profile System.” Today, these types of exercises may be better known in the United States than they are in contemporary Russia.


[…]  …for profile exercises, related features are a lot like the ones you find in human families, where someone might have a trait in common with a mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, etc. In other words, these exercises have their own family tree. 


[…]  Because of the competitive nature of artistic gymnastics, not all children will be able to ascend to the top floors of the gymnastics program. Only the best will continue to climb after a certain point. Not just the best – only the best of the best, those who are the most talented and goal-oriented will, together with their coaches, make it to the top of the gymnastics pyramid. 


[…]  By basic gymnastics skills I am referring to gymnastics postures, skills and elements and simple combinations of them that constitute the foundation of athletic progress and mastery. 


[…]  However women’s gymnastics has its own unique challenges involving the use of its huge arsenal of dance and choreographic elements. This is why there is yet another role to be played in women’s gymnastics – that of the choreographer. The integration of choreography is part of the complex process of advanced training. 


[…]  small children just beginning intensive training are not yet ready to assimilate a large volume of information of any sort, including about dance. Coaches who incorporate a large number of ballet exercises at the early stages of immersion are deeply mistaken.


[…]  Without taking anything away from the other choreographers listed above (they were all brilliant in their work with the boys and girls), I would nevertheless like to focus on one of them – Yelena Kapitonova, who made a real difference in my life. For me, this box on the organizational chart was a real “gift of fate”!


[…]  What Yelena Kapitonova was and still is today is someone who stages brilliant floor routines for dozens of famous Soviet and Russian women gymnasts. I consider myself fortunate for having worked with this top choreographer for approximately 20 years. 


[…]  When I talk about the “school of gymnastics” I am referring to the fundamental direction in which artistic gymnastics developed, a school that held as its standard only the clean execution of gymnastics exercises, no matter how difficult they were.


[…]  So in answer to the question, “What’s more important – jumping high or jumping beautifully?” let’s say that both are extremely important in gymnastics.


[…]  While I consider a straight body to be a classic basic shape that is critically important in training gymnasts, I nevertheless want to comment on the importance of transitional shapes – open tuck and tuck layout.


[…]  The journey from the double salto, which was first demonstrated on the sawdust of the Russian circus by Alexander Sosin, took more than 50 years hard work by many generations of circus performers, acrobats and gymnasts. But he, Valery Liukin, performed this element on the floor.


[…]  Head coach, senior coach, coach of state, senior specialist for the men’s and women’s gymnastics teams for the USSR and Russia, head of the gymnastics department and chair of the federation – these are just a few of the positions Leonid Arkayev held over the 30 years of his single-handed rule over Soviet and Russian gymnastics.


[…]  But this is the way it always goes in Rus: we take part in the creation of leaders and give them unlimited powers. Then time puts people to the test and sets everything it its proper place. But for this to happen it took an entire 30 years!


[…]  Believe me – 30 years in gymnastics is no small time and no small feat! It is very difficult: not just to sail along, but to be in charge, including when misfortunate strikes, and to be always stoic and with clenched teeth never give up, to keep moving forward!


[…]  And even if the results achieved by Russian gymnastics in recent decades leave something to be desired, I feel it my duty to thank Leonid Arkayev first and foremost for his selfless service to the great cause of Russian gymnastics and the superhuman tenacity he displayed as its leader. 


[…]  This is something that is sometimes resorted to during the early stages of gymnastics immersion, a time when children give their coach unquestioned authority. My advice would be that at this extremely productive age we should be engaged in more meaningful work in the “school of gymnastics,” and not drive children like drill sergeants. 


[…]  So, everyone should equip themselves with the latest FIG Code of Points, but in working with it, I would advise them to hold their horses and ride down the treacherous trail of elite gymnastics as safely as possible. 


[…]  This “cream of the crop” was not a million strong, but they had the might of an army! Like an army, these athletes were prepared to do whatever the Motherland asked of them. And what the Motherland asked of them was that they bring home the highest international prizes – first and foremost, of course, Olympic medals. 


[…]  Americans are good at coming up with names for things, and I think some clever expert will be able to pick out a catchy and, more to the point, correct name for what is now called “elite” gymnastics.


[…]  Common sense must prevail against the “arms race” that is driving high-level gymnastics, and common sense must help it avoid “horror stories.” In the end, gymnastics can only benefit from this, if not today, then at least tomorrow.


[…]  I believe that my country, Russia, which has been so influential in gymnastics for more than 50 years, will learn lessons from its recent defeats and return to the ranks of the leaders of international gymnastics. 


[…]  One of the gymnasts that brought glory to my country and entered the annals of world gymnastics as one of the best all-time gymnasts was Viktor Ivanovich Chukarin.


[…]  A bronze statue of Viktor Ivanovich Chukarin stands in Lvov’s Lychakov Cemetery. A great gymnast and someone with an extraordinary soul, he stands in the shade as if alive, leaning on a set of parallel bars and looking toward the future. It is a monument to the great feats he performed in the name of gymnastics and life. He was monumental in life, and as a monument he looks alive! For me, he still is.


[…]  In Russian we have a saying, “naivety is worse than thievery,” but here we are dealing with more thievery than naivety, especially when it turns out later that these gyms literally “kick out” onto the street “developed material” (i.e., gymnasts) that came from other clubs, but often not before they are thoroughly traumatized. The attitude is, “Easy come, easy go.”


[…]  Some of the best American gymnastics clubs serve as a “second home” to their gymnasts not just for a year or two, but for decades. And this can be true not only for those who work hard and ascend to Olympic heights, but for the thousands of children who start taking gymnastics at an early age and make it an important part of their childhood and teen years, even if they never reach the Elite level.


[…]  But there is a difference between an ordinary store and its goods and services and an athletic establishment: athletes don’t just train in a sports facility – they work there, along with their coach.


[…]  It would be interesting to know what kinds of results would have been achieved by top athletes in the USSR if there had been a system where parents had to pay for their children to study a sport and the bonus system for achievement had been abolished. If that happened, then maybe good fortune would have visited our people much earlier and we wouldn’t have been living in the USSR, but rather in a completely different country – the United States of New Russia.


[…]  I have just a few recommendations and criteria that will not only help club owners figure out how to select a lead coach, but will also permit them to identify leadership qualities in their work.


[…]  These were the qualities found in my personal coach, Alexei Chernyavy, who had just what it takes to be a leader. He didn’t need to advertise his achievements and didn’t walk around with a chest full of medals, although he had plenty of them.


[…]  Alexei Fyodorovich Chernyavy told me about these heroic British and American transport missions, which had to pass through seas controlled by the Germans and their allies, in order to provide assistance to the USSR, where the war was raging. 


[…]  I should note that the results achieved by his Dutch pupils forced the world to recognize that Holland isn’t just a country of tulips, windmills, and “red light districts,” but of top-class gymnastics. And the artistic gymnastics coach from Moscow (by the way, from an old Moscow family), Master of Sport for Sports Acrobatics, and Honored Coach of the USSR Boris Orlov had a part in this. 


[…]  I think that for American artistic gymnastics, my examples won’t be as compelling as the example of one of the lead coaches of the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy, Yevgeny Marchenko, who coached the all-around World champion in artistic gymnastics, Carly Patterson. 


[…]  The most striking example of someone coming to women’s gymnastics from another sport is the legendary Bela Karolyi, coach to the no less legendary Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci.


[…]  He grabbed the bull by the horns and put together a gymnastics program in tiny Romania that captivated the world with its clean line and stunning self-confidence.


[…]  Bela Karolyi not only convinced himself and Nadia Comaneci that the Russians could be beat, but he devised a strategy for putting together a team capable of taking them on.


[…]  I had the good fortune to witness the work of one such phenomenon from Orlando, Florida. His name was Jeff Wood, and today he is a recognized master of elite gymnastics.


[…]  As things turned out, although I did work side by side with the head coach of the Soviet Junior Girls National Team, Anatoly Kozeev, it was only for a short time, when he was just beginning his work there and I was starting out at Dynamo.


[…]  Looking back it is hard to believe how many obstacles constructed out of envy and lies Anatoly Kozeev and Lyubov Miromanova had to overcome to help Svetlana reach her Olympic podium in Seoul in 1988.


[…]  In my opinion, the “chief among the leaders” was Yury Titov, the Honored Master of Soviet Sport, champion of World and Olympic Games, former head of the Gymnastics Administration of the USSR State Committee for Sports and former president of FIG.


[…]  His diplomatic mission forced him to think like a communist, but live like a capitalist. He was like a Soviet spy sent into enemy territory – at home among strangers and a stranger at home.


[…]  In concluding my brief remarks about Yury Titov I will say that he loved his country and never betrayed it.


[…]  Some people make the mistake of thinking that the Chinese copy Soviet parades of Athletes on Red Square. In general, the Chinese are not above copying, but in gymnastics, their theatricality and dance are part of their own millennial traditions and anyone present at the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in China would certainly agree. 


[…] Every people has its heroes. And many nationalities are able to display large-scale heroism. We Russians, as I stated above, are at our best in time of war. The Chinese, on the other hand, have the ability to work with discipline!


[…]  I first heard about the possibility of a phenomenal surge in Chinese gymnastics from the technical director of the French Gymnastics Federation, Arthur Magakian.


[…]   Of course I knew the authority Arthur Magakian has in France, just as I knew that it was he who was responsible for the fact that Russian coach Anatoly Vorontsov was the one who helped France’s men’s team become European champions, making him a sort of national hero.


[…]  Michel Léglise not only helped me get in touch with Arthur Magakian in 2006, but also told me that he had been selected to serve as vice president of the International Federation of Gymnastics. 



[…]  I completely agree with the author that people like Al Fong can and should be called “iron” for their tough and principled character and for their exceptional discipline, which they apply to themselves first and foremost. 


[…]  The story of Al Fong and Armine Barutyan reminds me of the beloved Russian fairy tale, The Scarlet Flower (a story similar to Beauty and the Beast, popular in the West). Even the hardest heart can be softened by caring, affection, and love.


[…]  There is a famous catch phrase in Russian, a line from one of its most popular movies, the 1970 White Sun of the Desert, that goes, “The East [i.e., Central Asia] is a tricky business!” Our Petrunya came up with his own version of that saying, “Women’s gymnastics is a tricky business!”


[…] The best representative of these little mushrooms in my opinion was the Soviet gymnast Natalya Loshenova, a brilliant performer of the double arched layout in floor exercises, and today’s American superstar Shawn Johnson, who has performed acrobatic tricks of exceptional difficulty with incredible ease and even artistry. 


[…]   In this section on the art of coaching I would like to draw attention to the fact that there is no magical elixir a coach can drink and become a master. Hard work and only hard work, with unwavering attention to the smallest of details, even those that seem secondary,


[…]  There are some gymnasts who are not just talented, but seem to have “perfect pitch,” to borrow a term from the realm of music. The gift of “sight reading” new and difficult movements (to borrow another term from music) and learning them literally after just a few attempts was possessed, in my opinion, by the outstanding Soviet gymnast and Honored Master of Soviet Sport Dmitry Bilozerchev, known throughout the world of artistic gymnastics by the nickname “Bill.”


[…]  Life itself put everything in its proper place and separated the “wheat from the chafe”: two good kids from the former British national team have stayed with me heart and soul forever. I am referring to Ross Brewer and Kanukai Jackson.


[…]  I invited Ross Brewer to address a question that is of interest to many gymnastics coaches, gymnasts themselves, and, of course, their parents: how can people in his country combine gymnastics studies and an undergraduate education at a serious university.


[…] Another British gymnast who earned a special place in my heart is Kanukai Jackson, an extraordinarily talented gymnast who started working with British Gymnastics at an early age. He is a human catapult whose innate abilities seem almost limitless.


[…]  This striking surrealism lingers for a long time in the memory of anyone who sees a Cirque du Soleil performance. In any event, at times it seems to me that the producers of certain programs create living pictures of the artist Salvador Dali and sometimes recreate the world of the Renaissance Flemish master Pieter Bruegel. 


[…]    And now it is my turn to share some insights from my coaching experience, for which I will venture into some of the hottest topics in the world of gymnastics… 


  • The best way to learn advanced front handsprings is to master the basic front handspring. The basic handspring is sufficient at the lower levels. The more advanced handspring begins when you start to connect it with a front salto, for example.


  • While basic gymnastics training is not quite as severe as basic military training and Drill Sergeant Zaglada won’t be yelling at his recruits like Gomer Pyle’s Sergeant Carter, it is still serious business. Any coach who approaches it with anything but the most focused attention is making a terrible mistake. 


  • It is very important to find your own pose on the beam that becomes your signature.


  • In America this way of performing acrobatic elements on the balance beam is called “double down,” and it is very popular among strong gymnasts who demonstrate good amplitude in their BB tumbling.


  • The best drill for learning the back handspring step-out is rebound with cross split with the split initiated only once the rebound is completed.
  • The front aerial is one of the most interesting elements when it is performed on the balance beam.


  • I would advise focusing as much attention as possible on performing an ordinary tuck salto on the beam and viewing it as a reliable basic foundation exercise for learning to land on two feet.


  • The Mostepanova (or Onodi, if you prefer) element is directly related to back handsprings with a half twist during the first flight phase that in Russia is called the Kolpin Handspring.


  • I will immediately point out that the term “Arabian Salto,” at least in my country, for years was understood to describe side somersault elements where the rotation was in the lateral plane and the entry into the twist was performed not at 180º, but at 90º. 


  • The most popular group of techniques are the flic-flac combinations, whatever sort of takeoff and landing they may incorporate.


  • I believe all sorts of combinations of front aerials with side aerials and with Arabian side saltos have always had promise.


  • Of course, any multidirectional technique can be dangerous for the Achilles tendon, but, if they are trained for properly, this danger can be eliminated. It is sufficient to use combinations of high jumps (straddle jumps, for example) as lead-up exercises with a forward or back salto.


  • Exploiting a girl’s natural flexibility is not the best way to teach, for example, front and back handsprings. My personal experience has shown that it is specifically girls with exceptional lower back flexibility who need the most repetitions working on the take-off-swing technical mechanism of the front handspring.


  • Exercises such as: drop–stand up–bend over–pick up–run–drop–stand up again–100 push-ups–100 squats are not appropriate to gymnastics, and not only because children are not army recruits, but because this is gymnastics, and not body building.


  • Sometimes on the internet we can find pictures showing the “darker side” of the flexibility we are all so crazy about. Do we really want to bring medieval torture devices back to use on our gymnasts?


  • As I see it, the work of the coach in shaping the gymnast is very much like the work of the sculptor. However sculptors are working with a lump of clay that they can use to make whatever they want, not a living, breathing person. Our material is not as malleable or voiceless. It may be “material” in a manner of speaking, but it is human material and therefore demands consideration, respect, and love. This material cannot just be tossed away if the “sculptor” makes a mistake, it has to live with whatever errors the coach has made.


  • Is there an ideal physique for gymnastics? Here in America I have had the pleasure of not only seeing, but working with extremely young gymnasts with the perfect bodies for gymnastics. They were the very image of the ideal gymnastics physique: physically strong, very light, with optimal proportions and, of course, very cute little faces and extraordinary smiles. 


  • In my opinion static postures do not need to be held for more than one minute and absolutely must be alternated with dynamic exercises to build physique. Furthermore, I recommend that the coach oversee work on the straight planche and other taut horizontal postures and ensure that the static position is correct. No piece of equipment can ever replace the coach.


  • Of course good handstand preparation is a down-payment toward the creation of correct technique on the uneven bars. In answering questions associated with this interesting and technically challenging event I have prepared figures to model certain basic uneven bar exercises. I created this series of figures based solely on my personal knowledge and experience. 


  • With respect to the combination “kip cast to handstand” shown in the illustrations above, once the kip has been completed, the cast itself begins with a maximally hollow front support body position with upper thighs still touching the bar.


  • There are two ways to perform cast to handstand (and here we are talking specifically about dynamic cast to handstand, and not press to handstand!): 1) straight-body cast to handstand with legs together and 2) cast to handstand with an intermediate bending of the body in straddle position. 


  • Of course cast to handstand with an intermediate straddle position seems to have been specially designed for turning on the hands (“pirouettes”): the legs are brought together from being maximally apart just when the support arm regrasps the bar (after rotation), creating the best possible conditions for pivoting around the arm.


  • It should come as no surprise that, in the figures above, the clear hip circle to handstand follows approximately the same course as the simplest clear back hip circle.  This is because I have modeled not a “baby” clear circle but the foundational technique for performing back clear hip circles, which can be successfully used to effectively master not only back circles to handstand, but also more difficult versions of these movements.


  • Every fruit has its season and you could say that in artistic gymnastics every period has its own characteristic technical and structural zones. Each of these zones is associated with its own set of innovations.


  • The Russian nickname for the clear hip circle to handstand – pereshmyg – is derived from the colloquial verb shmygnut, to dart or slip by.


  • I had the good fortune to begin studying the first long swing giants with gymnasts on the Soviet national team in the early 1980s.


  • My point is to underscore the importance of studying long swing giants and the flyaway dismount in conjunction.


  • Beginning in the long swing zone, the baby giant ends with actions that ensure the gymnast moves from the hang zone to the support zone.


  • In principle, all the poses shown in this small gallery of fundamental shapes can be used as exercises to physically condition gymnasts to work on the uneven bars.


  • Above, I wrote about a number of prospective vaults and, in particular, about some that are very “fashionable” in the United States – flic-flacs from a roundoff known as the Yurchenko family of vaults. However I have my own opinion on the subject of which vaults can and should be considered truly fundamental and, for me, overthrow vaults fall into this category.


  • I believed and continue to believe that in turning up our noses at basic handsprings we are depriving gymnasts of an opportunity to support and develop their innate capacity for speed. After all, in what other structural group of techniques does the run-up play such a vital role?


  • I wrote about the Tsukahara type vault in Part IV and will only add that I consider the straight-body Tsukahara vault to be the basic version.


  • Does the Yurchenko vault have obvious advantages over vaults from other structural groups, and, if so, are there limits to how much power can be generated in vaults of this type? 


  • For such a vault, this flight phase must be built not on  a half-flic-flac entry to handstand with legs hanging down, but a powerful half-salto entry with straight body. In essence, what we are talking about here is a half-salto layout to handstand.  


[…]   As a former acrobat and acrobatics coach for the Soviet national artistic gymnastics team, for me, tumbling is probably the most interesting part of artistic gymnastics. There was a time in the late 1970s when I had the good fortune to work with the Soviet boys’ junior team under the direction of Andrei Rodionenko.


[…] Several years ago Andrei Fyodorovich Rodionenko actually did return to his motherland and became head coach of the Russian Gymnastics Federation. He is building up his favorite sport with the help of his wife, Valentina Sergievskaya, who was appointed State Coach of the Russian Federation by the Ministry of Sports.


[…] For simplicity’s sake, in beginning our discussion about basic tumbling I will classify tumbling elements in terms of their most basic characteristic – the presence of rotation in a salto or twist.


[…] But let us return to our original question: what elements are considered the foundation of tumbling techniques in artistic gymnastics? The short answer is this: the front handspring landing on two feet and the back handspring (the flic-flac).  


[…]  Here, I would like to use the analogy of an academic education to provide an overview of the course of study someone would need to go through to become a master in the art of tumbling. 


[…]  Of course whatever coaches do, they do it for their gymnasts, who do not grow up overnight and certainly do not turn into champions overnight.


[…]  Like many other coaches, I feel a special sense of responsibility before my little gymnasts, not yet endowed with the gift of reason and just now taking their first steps into the world of artistic gymnastics.


[…]  Whatever thoughts might be overwhelming you and whatever problems may be confronting you, once you look at those girls standing before you, your other concerns vanish. These children are a source of positive energy.


[…]  But perhaps for me one of the best things about the trip was my visit to nearby Chattanooga, a town I’d gotten to know more than 50 years earlier. Well, not the town exactly, but the song “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” which I sang with my friends back in high school. 


[…]  Another extraordinary discovery awaited me in this American town – an exhibition and sale of Soviet paintings.


[…]  I cannot say that the most recent waves of Russian immigrants have put down the same sorts of roots here as the Italians, Irish, or Germans, but today they are becoming a part of the American fabric. The fall of the iron curtain that divided the world for almost a decade truly opened the door to the West for the people of the former Soviet Union.


[…]  I realize that it may be a bit odd to see the score for “Chattanooga Choo Choo” framed by a traditional Russian folk pattern. But this sort of anomaly seems symbolic of my life story, the later chapters of which are being written in American English. It is only fitting that I conclude my book with this bread and salt presented on a rushnik. 


[…]  In America I now have very little contact with other gymnastics professionals. But the writing of this book has offered me a new means of immersing myself in my favorite subject and reflecting on it, and it has filled a gap for me now that I am no longer in the gymnastics mainstream.


[…]  In concluding this short epilogue, written after the book had already been translated into English, I consider it an honor to thank those who have had a huge influence on me on both a personal and professional level.


Below is one extended excerpt from my book which is very important for all of us and particularly for our future generations because this is probably the answer on the questions: 1/ how great USSR Sport Machine was before the Soviet Union was collapsed and 2/who were the first American Sport Ambassadors developed real Friendship and Partnership between USA and USSR …

International Genius Or Coaches So Different, Yet so Alike

What was special about American gymnastics and how was this sport able to develop so rapidly over the course of the last 20 years? Two decades is nothing within the centuries-old history of gymnastics, but this was all that was needed for the United States of America to build a solid foundation for world-class gymnastics and cultivate its own World and Olympic champions.

In my opinion, it is naive to think that there is a specific recipe for producing champions and that everything depends on the qualifications of the coach and the talent of the athletes. If a country’s goal is to dominate for years or even decades, and not just an instant or a day, it will take more than a single genius to build a national gymnastics program.

American gymnastics needed COLLECTIVE INTERNATIONAL GENIUS and it came together in the United States and found fertile ground there. A key ingredient in the success of contemporary American gymnastics is the multinational character of its coaches. By now hundreds if not thousands of émigré coaches have come to the United States and are successfully teaching. They have breathed innovation and complexity into American gymnastics and instilled in the public a new-found respect for the sport’s rigorous professionalism. But most important is the American system of government, which welcomes people from around the world without regard for national origin, ethnicity, or culture. People can speak their native language, practice their own religion, and preserve their national traditions. 


About cultural exchanges and some memorable exchangees. 

That was when I decided, rather than pestering my compatriots, to turn to an American coach for help, someone who more than 20 years before this had been one of the first to appear on Moscow’s gymnastics horizon. His name was Gary Goodson. Back then, young Gary Goodson used to come to Moscow with groups led by the well-known Canadian fitness pioneer Edmund Enos.

Dr. Edmund Enos brought large delegations of Americans and Canadian coaches to Moscow to take part in joint seminars on the theory and practice of artistic gymnastics under the auspices of a prominent Soviet-Canadian cultural exchange program. For a number of years I had been one of the regular presenters at these seminars, which earned me various honorary diplomas and certificates (such as the one you see below). 

Unfortunately, not long ago the world of sport bid farewell to the great sports pedagogue Dr. Enos. He will forever remain in my memory as the handsome, charming, and ever resilient Edmund Enos, just as you see him in the above photograph, which was taken on Red Square against the backdrop of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Everyone in Dr. Enos’ groups was always smiling. He was able to infect everyone in his seminars with his own energy and drive to learn as much as possible and do everything as well as possible. These groups were not just cultural exchange delegations. The American and Canadian coaches were thoroughly educated in how gymnastics were taught in the Soviet Union. Many of them who now work at the highest levels of American and Canadian gymnastics remember their Russian education well and are grateful to the exchange organizers for the knowledge and skills they acquired there. 

One of the people in the audience at these courses and, as I later learned, one of their organizers, Gary Goodson, had stuck in my memory more than the others because of his exceptional sociability and his cowboy style. I was familiar with this style only through the movie The Magnificent Seven. Gary Goodson was the first real live American cowboy I had ever seen. When he attended major international gymnastics competitions, including the World Championship and World Cup, he never parted with his cowboy hat, jeans, and hem-stitched, pointy-toed cowboy boots. Anyone could see that he was proud of the fact that he was an American.                   

Although Gary Goodson stayed out of politics, he was one of the first Americans who used sports to create a bridge between our countries to strengthen friendship and mutual understanding. He emanated a warmth that helped to melt the ice that had built up during the years of the Cold War.

And today nothing has changed – he is still the same as he was almost thirty years ago: a sociable, intelligent, and erudite gymnastics expert who is still captivated by the beauty of the Russian language and the melodiousness of Russian songs, an ardent student of Russian cooking, and someone with a deep appreciation and knowledge of Russian gymnastics.

This was the sort of person I needed back then, and without hesitation I contacted him. He responded to my request with amazing speed and quickly discussed the possibility of hiring me with several American clubs. From there, it was just a matter of working out the details, getting an American tourist visa, and preparing to fly to the United States of America to sign a contract.


I am honored to introduce my book with a quotation from one of my favorite gymnasts, one of the United States’ greatest athletes and the most decorated American gymnast in history, Ms. Shannon Miller. I fully share the sentiment she expresses here, particularly the last sentence:                                                     

“Some of my earliest memories of gymnastics were watching the Soviet gymnasts while at a training camp in Moscow. I was only 7 years old. I watched in awe as these young girls moved like ballerinas yet tumbled like acrobats. I knew instantly that I wanted to perform exactly like them. I loved the beauty and the artistry of their gymnastics. For years I watched films looking at their technique. I was never going to be a power house gymnast, but I felt that somehow I was born to perform. Watching the Soviet girls and getting to know them as people, friends, I realized that it wasn’t about where you were from or what language you spoke, it was simply about the work”.




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