50 years ago at the Olympics in Munich, a girl named Olga Korbut amazed the world and became the first young star of gymnastics.
With a fragile figure and hair tied back in ribbons, the 17-year-old Belarusian does things on parallel bars that gymnastics has never seen before. Her performance then shockingly earned her only a score of 9.8 and a silver medal behind Germany’s Karin Janz.
However, Korbut left Munich with three gold medals, two of which were individual for her performances on beam and floor. To a large extent, she changed the whole idea of women’s gymnastics by changing the style – from one resembling a ballet dance to a strict energetic performance that flows in one breath.
Korbut’s fame only lasted four years before the Munich Olympics and Romanian Nadia Comaneci (14) won the love of her audience with performances that earned her a perfect ten. There, Comaneci won three of the individual gold medals, with the other two going to Korbut’s teammate Nellie Kim. Olga is also in Canada, but is already far from her best form due to injury and triumphed only in the team competition. To this he adds silver on a beam.
To a large extent, Korbut’s performance in Munich remains one of the most memorable of the Olympics, which were marred by the tragedy of a terrorist attack and the killing of Israeli hostages. The so-called Corbut flip became her trademark. A move where he drops to the bottom of the parallel bar and makes a full belly turn before catching the upper bar while his back is to it. It’s hard to describe in words.
Her active sports career ended in 1977 when she became a teacher. She married the musician Leonid Bortkevich, to whom she gave birth to a son. The two moved to the USA in 1991, being disturbed by the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. They divorced nine years later, when Korbut also received American citizenship.
In 2017, the Belarusian sold part of the Olympic medals, as information appeared in the Russian media that she was in a very difficult financial situation.
The owner of the company that organized the auction with revenues of 334 thousand dollars, denied such a thing, and so did Korbut’s partner – Jay Schoenfeld.
Over the years, the four-time Olympic champion announced that she was raped by her long-time coach Renard Knish, and that was right before her greatest successes in gymnastics.
“It was… how do I say it in Russian? In English it’s violence. Assault? Harassment? And finally, right before the Olympics, you outright raped me. That’s true! Of course I hid it because I was ashamed. It happened in Minsk, at the Yubileynaya Hotel, when I was 17. After that I had to live with this memory. It was terrible,” said Korbut on the Russian TV channel “First Channel”.
She does not hide this story from the public space, telling it for the first time in 1988 in her autobiography. However, there is no serious response then. It was her interview on Russian television that ignited the scandal, where she also revealed that the rapes happened several times.
“Even on our first trip to America, he invited me to his room again… But then he stopped going out. The security kept an eye on him. Out of fear, he stopped traveling with me and simply abandoned me. He was afraid that the Americans would say something . It’s true. Let him talk what he wants! After me the same thing happened to another girl. But she told her parents and they wanted to put him in jail. But I didn’t say he raped me. And for life I have to carry this memory. After all this time, the wound still hasn’t healed,” she adds.
Coach Knish categorically denies her accusations, defines them as false, and Russian television gives the opportunity for a public dialogue between the two. Olga also accuses him of beating him, but he again replies that this is a lie.
Korbut’s ex-husband Leonid Bortkevich is even involved in the dispute:
“I lived with her for almost 25 years and I can say that she never lies. You know it very well too”.
Knish eventually stops rambling and tells the truth:
“I forced myself to make her love me. But she did so much nonsense, did so much nonsense – it was impossible for me to love her. But I treated her wonderfully, I constantly showed her how good, beautiful, smart, talented. All this was to inspire her. Because only a motivated person can become a genius.”
A year after the scandal broke, Knish died at the age of 87, and his wife blamed Korbut for bringing about the end of his life:
“His health worsened after Korbut defamed him in front of the whole nation. Instead of being grateful to him, she poisoned his life. What kind of violence is she talking to me about on the eve of the Olympics? What’s the point of a coach undermining his athletes before a race? Everything she claims are lies.”
Who is wrong, who is right, we may never know, but it is a fact that the Olympic history of Olga Korbut will always go with the accusations against her coach.