Olga Valentinovna Korbut (born May 16, 1955 in Grodno), also known as the “Sparrow from Minsk”, is a former Belarusian gymnast who won four gold medals and two silver medals at the Summer Olympic Games, in which she competed in 1972 and 1976 for the Soviet team.
At the 1972 Olympics, Korbut’s acrobatics and open high-level gymnastics brought her much fame. To this day, the tuck back and Korbut Flip are still very popular (2003 world beam champion Fan Ye performed both in her routine). This excellence in technical skills overthrew the sport’s traditional emphasis on artistry.
During the Olympics, Korbut was one of the favourites for the all-around after her dynamic performance in the team competition; however, she missed her mount on bars three times and the title went to her teammate Ludmilla Tourischeva. Notwithstanding, Korbut won three gold medals for the balance beam, floor exercise and team. In one of the most controversial finishes of all time, she took a silver medal in the uneven bars. Korbut’s first attempt at her uneven bars routine was marred by several mistakes which all but ended her chances of winning a gold medal in the all-around. The next day, Korbut repeated the same routine in the event finals, although this time successfully. After the boards displayed a score of 9.8, the audience began to whistle, jeer, stamp their feet, and shout vulgar remarks at the judges in disapproval, believing her score to be too low. This carried on for several minutes; however, the judges refused to change her score.
Korbut is most famous for her uneven bars and balance beam routines, as well as her charismatic performances that captivated audiences. Her Olympic achievement earned her ABC’s Wide World of Sports title of Athlete of the Year. In 1973, she won the Russian and World Student (i.e., University) Games, and a silver medal in the all-around at the European Championships.
Soviet coaches and officials had designated Korbut as the woman who could beat the Romanian prodigy, Nadia Comăneci, in the 1976 Summer Olympics at Montreal, but Korbut was injured and her performances in the games were sub-par. She was overshadowed not only by Comăneci, but also by her own teammate Nellie Kim. She did collect a team gold medal, and an individual silver medal for the balance beam.