Saturday, 8 November 2008

Unhappy Olympic Endings

It seems today that the slightest slip can be taken by the media and turned into the unhappiest of endings, but a look back at gymnastics history can reveal times when a sad ending was far more than an unexpected slip from the balance beam.

The first women’s gymnastics Olympic team event was held at the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928. The home nation of Holland took the gold. Today, an Olympic gold medallist can rely on a comfortable life post Olympics. However, Helena Nordheim, Estella Agsterribe, Anna Polak and Judikje Simons (all members of the gold medal winning team), and their coach Gerrit Kleerekoper, were all killed in gas chambers 15 years later. The only Jewish member of the team to survive world war two was Elka de Leve.

In 1948, the Olympics were held in London. Czechoslovakia were dominant in the team competition, which is surprising due to the late injury of a team member. After arriving in London, 22 year old Eliska Misáková became ill and was assigned an iron lung. On the day of the team competition, she died of paralysis.
When the Czech flag was raised at the medal ceremony, it was decorated with a black ribbon.

In Mexico City, 1968, the soviet women took their fifth team title. Years later, in 1994, a member of the team (Olga Karasyova) appeared on German television, claiming that she and the whole team had been forcibly impregnated prior to the games to raise their levels of male hormones. Girls without a boyfriend or husband were forced to have sex with their coach. Ten weeks later they were given abortions.

One of the most political gymnastic figures is Věra Čáslavská, who famously turned her head down away from the soviet flag during a medal ceremony. However, she paid for this act of defiance as the authorities made sure than she remained unemployed for the years after the Olympics. Every year she appeared at the office of the sport minister requesting a job, for seven years she was refused.

The favourite to win the 1980 all around title was defending world champion, Yelena Mukina. Sixteen days before the Olympics, Mukina broke her spine during practice. She was unable to speak for six months and was paralysed until her death in 2006.

Many would say that an Olympic medal isn’t a matter of life or death. But after Svetlana Boguinskaya came third in the all around at the 1988 Olympics, this was such a disappointment to her coach that it reportedly contributed to his suicide three days after the games. Sveltlana went on to win the all round title at the 1989 world championships and dedicated her medal to her former coach, Lybov Miromanova.


Anonymous said...

why is it bad that people don't look at the flag during the metal ceremony?

paaahdagymnast said...

because that is a display that she doesn't respect the country. (Her country had been invaded by USSR)