The “HALLreMARKS” link will feature informal articles, thoughts, extended biographies, and works by individuals who have experienced much in the world of gymnastics. We trust you will enjoy the themes implicit in each presentation and you will find an idea or two to help guide your interest in our great sport. So, enjoy the writings and all to come.
March 22, 2011
Nikolai Andrianov, Gymnastics Icon, Dies at 58
By BRUCE WEBER
Submitted by Abie Grossfeld
Nikolai Andrianov, the record-setting Russian gymnast who had won more Olympic medals than any other male athlete before the swimmer Michael Phelps passed him, died Monday in Vladimir, Russia. He was 58.
The International Gymnastics Federation in Lausanne, Switzerland, announced his death, citing a degenerative nerve disease that had robbed him of his ability to speak and to move his arms and legs.
Immensely powerful in the upper body and with a gift for leaping quickly off the floor, Andrianov was especially strong in the rings and floor exercises, but over three Summer Olympics —Munich in 1972, Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980 — his 15 medals, seven of them gold, included at least one in all four of the other gymnastic events as well: the vault, pommel horse, parallel bars and horizontal bar.
Andrianov was the 1976 Olympic all-around champion and the silver medalist in the 1980 all-around competition. Only the Soviet women’s gymnast Larissa Latynina, who won 18 medals in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 games, and Phelps, who won eight medals for the United States in Beijing in 2008, bringing his total to 16, have won more Olympic medals.
“He was good on everything,” said Peter Vidmar, a three-medal winner at the 1984 Olympics who is now the chairman of USA Gymnastics, the governing body of the sport in America. “He was not the most flexible athlete on the floor, which was unusual because the Russians were typically considered the artists. But he was really consistent, and very, very strong, with almost a barrel chest. There wasn’t one event where he was the best in the world, but if he hit, he was going to win.”
Beyond his physical gifts and technical mastery, however, he was known for his courage and the kind of bravado attributed to fighter pilots and astronauts — “the right stuff,” in the writer Tom Wolfe’s phrase. He pushed other gymnasts to match his feats — attempting triple back flip dismounts from the rings, for example, when everyone else was doing doubles. He also enjoyed his cigarettes and vodka.
“He was one of the toughest gymnasts I’ve ever seen,” said Bart Conner, who competed against Andrianov in the late 1970s and went on to win two gold medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics. “Flat-out tough.”
Nikolai Yefimovich Andrianov was born in Vladimir, east of Moscow, on Oct. 14, 1952, one of four children raised by a single mother after his father abandoned the family. He grew up poor and was something of a hoodlum, headed for trouble before he was rescued by gymnastics in general and a coach, Nikolai Tolkachev, in particular.
He earned a place on the Soviet national team in 1970 and won his first medals in international competition — including two golds, in pommel horse and vault — at the European Championships in 1971. The next year, he was the all-around champion of the Soviet Union.
At the 1972 Summer Olympics, at age 19, Andrianov won a gold in floor exercises, a bronze in the vault and a silver in the team combined competition. His finest hour came at the 1976 Games, when he won seven medals, including gold in the floor exercises, rings, vault and all-around. In 1980 he added five more medals, including a gold in the vault. In 1978, he was the all-around winner at the world championships.
After his retirement from competition, Andrianov was an international judge and a coach in the Soviet Union and, later, in Japan.
In the 1980s, he coached the Soviet junior team, where his prize pupil was Vitaly Scherbo, who went on to win six out of eight possible gold medals at the 1992 Summer Olympics, the greatest performance ever by a gymnast at an Olympics.
Scherbo said in an interview Tuesday that Andrianov, perhaps owing to his own rugged upbringing, helped him cope with his own worst instincts and once persuaded the coach of the Soviet national team to reinstate him after he had been suspended, threatening his future.
“He was my mentor,” Scherbo, who now runs a gymnastics school in Las Vegas, said of Andrianov. “He taught me how to concentrate, to keep myself inside myself. He is the man who made my gymnastics life.”
Andrianov’s survivors include his wife, Lyubov Burda, also a world-class gymnast, whom he married in 1973, and two sons.
“His contributions were immeasurable,” said Conner, now the president of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. “There’s a fellowship, a brotherhood of these athletes, and we appreciated the artistry of a classical gymnast, but we were most in awe of a guy who would cut for a triple back flip off the rings when nobody else would go for it. In our little fraternity, we hold all these layers of respect, and to a man, gymnasts say, ‘That guy was a stud!’ ”