Korbut Flips

Olga Korbut“Here one could learn more about Belarus", says a link on the website of Olga Korbut  (Volha Korbut) - a famous Soviet gymnast who grew up and started her breathtaking career in the Belarusian city of Hrodna. Also known as the Sparrow from Minsk, Korbut, with her persistence and excellence in technical skills, helped publicizing gymnastics worldwide and contributed to a marked change in the tenor of the sport itself. Her touching openness brought closer Cold War enemies - the USSR and the USA - in sports and politics. In that way, in a dispute, the truth was born, and with it, friendship. And that sounds like a very Belarusian way.

Olga Korbut was the youngest of four daughters of an engineer and a cook. She found her way to sports pretty early but was not immediately recognized as a future star and idol of millions as she was too "chubby" for a gymnast. Her first coach was Ronald Knysh. He was impressed with her talent and the speed she grasped every new element. It seemed, he said, nothing was impossible for her.
But one's talent and native abilities are not enough; champion also needs a strong will and readiness to work infinitely. Olga cried over futile hours of training but was willing to stand up and perfect everything again and again. Is it a usual story of a new champion? It could as well be a tale of a modest Belarusian revolutionary.

Korbut was desperate and bold, as Knysh recalls, she had the qualities of an athlete who wouldn’t follow the beaten track but would open up new opportunities and new horizons, for herself and for the sport in general.
During her training Olga improvised on the bars, and the coach developed an unusual, daring flip that later was named after her. This back flip—to—catch on the uneven bars was the first release move ever achieved on the bars. Today gymnasts are not allowed to perform the flip which is considered to be extremely dangerous.

In 1972, 16-year-old Korbut conquered the XX Olympic Games in Munich. If the Soviet athletes were renowned for their sour faces of fighters, Olga shared her experience with the spectators and cameras. People all around the world could see her smiling and waving to the supportive crowds. They could also see her genuine tears of disappointment, especially when, having won gold medals for the balance beam and floor exercise, she received a silver on her favorite uneven bars. This sincerity only fueled up her popularity. She was now receiving letters from her fans from all over the world.

That was the beginning of the new era of gymnastics - Korbut’s gymnastics - emotional and risky, graceful and nervous, innovative and charismatic. There was not only Korbut Flip but also Korbut Salto (a backwards aerial somersault on the balance beam) and Korbut Flic-Flac.

No, Olga’s performances were not always great; she never got the medals on all events. Nonetheless her gains were much more important. After all, it was not only the audience to applaud her; she was recognized as a master by her fellow gymnasts.

In 1973, charismatic Olga was named best female athlete in the world. In the same year, the USSR national gymnastics team started its 20-day US tour called Olga Korbut and the team. The popularity of the Soviet gymnast in America created a wave of interest in gymnastics: American girls wanted to enroll in gymnastics schools, which opened in every State; hundreds of them were named after Korbut.
Korbut went to the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal as a star, but her old injuries did not let her to put on her best performance.

On a flight to another US tour in 1976 Olga met with Leanid Bartkevich, lead singer of the popular in the Soviet Union Belarusian pop-folk band Pesnyary. Two years later, as she retired from gymnastics, they got married and in 1979 she gave birth to her only son, Richard. After graduating from the Hrodna Pedagogical Institute she worked as the head coach of the national team but didn’t find the job rewarding. She quit it to devote herself to her family. Bartkevich said she toured with Pesnyary, helped them stage their performances and cooked for them draniki - Belarusian potato pancakes.

Having not found a way of using her talent in the USSR and being worried about the health of her son following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, in 1991, Korbut decided to move to the United States, where she was often offered jobs. Olga taught gymnasts lived in different States: she married second time. In the early 2000, her name appeared in a number of scandals: Korbut was arrested on alleged shoplifting charges on the sum of 19 dollars. Her son Richard was charged with counterfeiting and spent three years behind bars.
Today Korbut lives in Scottsdale (Arizona) and heads Olga Korbut Gymnastics Academy. She gives private gymnastics and dancing lessons for all age groups.

Many people think Olga Korbut is Russian. Well, she isn't", writes Olga on her website confirming her Belarusian origins. She explains that “Belarus is a small independent country in the centre of Europe and that its national flag is red and green. But it’s not a real one. Belarus’ real flag is red-white-red. But unfortunately now it's gone…”

Learn more about Belarus! It is a world-famous Belarusian gymnast Olga Korbut who is going to tell you about it.

By Maryna Rakhlei for the ODB

Olga Korbut then and now

Olga Korbut and her husband

Olga Korbut in childhood

Olga Korbut, olympics, medal

Olga Korbut

Olga Korbut

Olga Korbut

Olga Korbut

Olga Korbut

Olga Korbut