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In the Soviet Union, she was called the "Miracle with pigtails", and foreign media dubbed Olga Korbut "Sparrow from Minsk". The incredible sportsmanship and charm of the gymnast conquered the whole world, with her “diamond smile” she destroyed all stereotypes about Soviet athletes. But after the end of her career, the Olympic champion had to go through many trials before finding solid ground under her feet.
The path to glory
She was incredibly talented, gymnastics became for Olga Korbut akin to having to breathe. Many years after the sports career of this fragile smiling girl ended, she will say in her interview: if gymnastics did not exist, she would have to invent this sport herself.
Under the guidance of coach Renald Knysh, Olga, who grew up in Grodno, became a member of the Soviet Union national team. She performed the most difficult elements with ease and enthusiasm, which created the illusion of lightness. Olga Korbut's loop went down in the history of artistic gymnastics as one of the most difficult and risky elements. It was later banned due to too great a risk in execution.
Olga Korbut's participation in the Olympic Games in Munich made a splash. The athlete won three gold and one silver medals at once, captivating the audience and judges with her somersault on the balance beam and the very loop that received the name of the gymnast.
The champion at that moment was only 17, after her triumphant performance they began to call her “the miracle with pigtails”, and in foreign media Olga Korbut was often called “the sparrow from Minsk”. A year later, she came to America on tour, and President Richard Nixon himself hosted a reception at the White House for this girl.
At the time of the meeting, the president, looking at the gymnast, exclaimed: "You are so small!" Olga, slightly bewildered by such attention, fervently replied: "And you are so big!". After the reception, Soviet diplomats attending the meeting told Olga that in a few hours she had done much more to improve relations between the USSR and the United States than they had done in several years.
Four years later, Olga Korbut decided to end her career immediately after the Olympic Games in Montreal. Then she won only two medals: team gold and silver for exercises on the balance beam.
Life after glory
The gymnast met Leonid Bortkevich, the soloist of the renowned group Pesnyary, between heaven and earth, during a flight to the USA, where Pesnyary went on tour, and the USSR national artistic gymnastics team went to demonstration performances. "Miracle with pigtails" could not sit still, she was warming up in the aisle and at the same time persuaded the performers to sing. They categorically refused, explaining that they did not sing on airplanes.
When the head coach of the national team winked at the gymnast and advised them to show something, Olga did not hesitate for a second, scrolling a somersault right in the aisle. At this point, the Pesnyars would be ashamed not to answer, and they burst into Vologda.
After that, Leonid Bortkevich and Olga Korbut talked for several hours without a break. True, the gymnast immediately told her interlocutor: she will never marry an athlete or artist, because it will not be a family, but rare dates between tours and training camps.
But a year later, she called Leonid herself.In 1978, they became husband and wife, celebrating an exemplary wedding and receiving a luxurious apartment in Minsk from the state. Olga and Leonid were happy, they had a son, Richard. But the Olympic champion was not doing as well as during the competition.
It all started with the loss of a party membership card, after which Olga Korbut was expelled from the party for a year. This deprived her of the opportunity to work in the USSR national team. And in 1986, after the Chernobyl accident, the couple decided to leave for the United States so as not to endanger their son and second baby they were waiting for. True, the child was never born.
Life is not bad across the sea
In the USA, the life of an athlete was developing quite successfully, she immediately recruited a group of gymnasts, gave lessons at the invitation of various sports schools, and participated in numerous talk shows. But Leonid Bortkevich's foreign career did not develop, and after 14 years of unsuccessful attempts to find himself in the United States, he returned to his homeland. Naturally, the marriage fell apart.
Olga Korbut soon married a second time to Alexei Voynich, but later admitted that she was simply helping a fellow countryman, who was 25 years younger, to obtain American citizenship. That is why the second marriage of the gymnast was soon dissolved.
Despite the fact that the athlete led a rather secluded lifestyle, her name often flashed in the press. Either in connection with the theft from a supermarket, in which she was accused, or thanks to her son, who came to the attention of law enforcement agencies on suspicion of making and selling counterfeit money.
As it turned out later, there was no theft, the Olympic champion simply forgot her wallet in the car and, absentmindedly, went to fetch it along with the groceries that she had already put in her basket. But the son of Olga Korbut and Leonid Bortkevich was sentenced to three years, having discovered during a search in the house counterfeit banknotes totaling 30 thousand dollars. Later, Richard was expelled from the country.
The name of Olga Korbut was associated with another scandal: in 1988, she wrote about it in her book "Once upon a time there was a girl," and in 2018 she announced the harassment by coach Renald Knysh, who made an Olympic champion out of a talented athlete, on the air one popular Russian program. The former coach denied everything, and Olga Korbut gave details of the event that happened more than half a century ago. Only after she told about everything, the athlete felt relief, and the memories stopped tormenting her.
When it became known about the sale of medals and cups of the legendary gymnast at an auction in the United States, many media began to hear assumptions about the plight of Olga Korbut. The athlete hastened to give a rebuttal: she is doing well, it just so happened that she put up her awards at auction and was able to get a very decent amount of 183 thousand dollars for them. Together with the awards, a magazine with her photo on the cover and an autograph and Olga Korbut's swimsuit, in which she performed, were sold.
By that time, Olga Valentinovna's financial position was stable: she is a popular trainer, the author of a very popular fitness program, and the gymnast's third husband, Jay Schenfilt, is a well-to-do person.
Today Olga Korbut has found harmony and long-awaited peace in life, she is happy and intends to serve until the end of her days to the cause to which she devoted her life - artistic gymnastics.
The life of another talented gymnast, Elena Mukhina, was much more tragic than that of Olga Korbut. She was the absolute champion of the USSR and the world in artistic gymnastics, showed an incredibly difficult program, some elements of which are currently prohibited in competitions because of their danger. The gymnast dreamed of becoming an Olympic champion, but the injury she received in training forever deprived her of this opportunity. But even being bedridden, Elena Mukhina continued to fight for the right to live.
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