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What Made Them So Great?

January 15, 2011

Soviets absolutely dominated the sport for decades. But what set them apart from the other teams? In 1986, Kristie Phillips and Irina Baraksanova were interviewed for USA Gymnastics Magazine, and gave responses that I think sum up why the Soviets were special. Here they are competing at the same event, the 1986 American Cup.

We usually spend one hour per week on ballet but Marta Karolyi has us do a lot of compulsory floor in the morning practice.
Kristie Phillips (USA), USA Gymnastics 3-4/1986

Dance is the very basis of our program. We stress dance, that is why we are so good. I spend one hour a day on dance.
Irina Baraksanova (URS), USA Gymnastics Magazine 3-4/1986

I think Irina was right.  Dance is what made the Soviets so great, and it’s still part of the appeal of the Russians today. The emphasis on ballet training is obvious in Irina’s routine. She looks elegant out there. She could just wave her arm and it would lookpretty.

First, I am very sorry for not including Kristie’s routine in my Christmas Special Post, but I’m pretty hopeful that nobody missed it much. While watching Kristie’s routine, I felt as though I was watching the Hideous Choreography Montage again. Her routine is different from many of the routines today that are poorly choreographed because there is choreography that goes with the music. It is not just empty. While I do believe that floor routines do not need to be ballet based (some of my favorite routines of all time have odd choreography), they do need to flow somewhat. My favorite routines that are not balletic still show off dance training, while this routine is fast paced and awkward to me. Kristie just happens to have a quote to back up her routine. I’m not trying to pick on her, because there are hundreds of other routines that I could have used in the place of this one.

The Soviets had it all; difficulty, consistency and grace. But the thing that made them so fantastic was their dance training.


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