The Class of 2012 – Portraits of Excellence

This weekend, high atop the Oklahoma City skyline in The Petroleum Club, four legendary gymnasts will be honored during the 2012 Induction Ceremonies for the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. It will be an elegant, emotional and entirely gratifying experience…for everyone in attendance.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these remarkable athletes, beginning with the sport’s first legitimate superstar from the modern age of televised sport: 1968 Olympic Champion Vera Caslavska. A national hero in the Czech Republic, Ms. Caslavska was voted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 1998, but was unable to attend the formal induction ceremonies that year.  This year, she will occupy center stage in Oklahoma City, along with Kim Zmeskal, Natalia Shaposhnikova and Zoltan Magyar.

(First, a note: The biographies below were penned by Dwight Normile, the esteemed editor of International Gymnast magazine. Every year Dwight lends his considerable talents as a writer, historian, and storyteller to the IGHOF, providing context and insightful personal details to the celebration of each new class of honorees. We are grateful for his talents.)

VERA CASLAVSKA, Czech Republic

As the most successful female gymnast of the 1960s, Vera Caslavska of the Czech Republic has achieved infamy for not only her dominating performances, but her dignified defiance of political and social strife in her homeland. Caslavska, a native of Prague, won three gold medals (including the all-around) at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and the 1966 World Championships; and every event at the 1965 and 1967 European Championships.

Caslavska crowned her impressive career by winning four gold medals (including the all-around) at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. As dynamic and captivating as Caslavska’s performances were in Mexico City, the symbolic stance she took against the Soviet Union’s recent invasion of Czechoslovakia made an even stronger impression on worldwide television audiences. Soviet tanks had rolled into Prague to crush a popular uprising just months before the Games, forcing Caslavska to train in a secret rural location. In June 1968, Caslavska signed the “Manifesto of 2,000 Words,” outlining democratic reforms being demanded by Czechoslovakian citizens.

In Mexico City, Caslavska staged her own quiet but effective protest. A late scoring change in the floor exercise final (which Caslavska had apparently won alone) created a tie between her and Soviet gymnast Larisa Petrik. As the Soviet flag was raised and its anthem played, Caslavska lowered and averted her head.
Caslavska became the heroine of the 1968 Olympics, but her public anti-Soviet display of Czechoslovakian patriotism made her an outcast upon her return to her country, which was still under Soviet influence. After years of oppression, Caslavska returned to favor once the “Velvet Revolution” ousted the Communist government in late 1989. Caslavska served as adviser to Czech President Vaclav Havel on matters of health care and welfare, and as President of the Czech National Olympic Committee.

Caslavska lives privately in Prague, but her athletic and social achievements assure her place of honor in sports and political archives around the world.

KIM ZMESKAL, United States

Few gymnasts have dominated on a national level as Kim Zmeskal did from 1989-92, when she won four consecutive U.S. titles: one junior and three senior. But it was Zmeskal’s international achievements, fueled by her energized spunk, that really jump-started a U.S. women’s program that had taken a dip after its success in 1984.

Born Feb. 6, 1976, in Houston, Zmeskal became the first American to win a world all-around title, in 1991 in Indianapolis. And to prove it was no home-advantage fluke, Zmeskal, who was coached by the legendary Bela and Marta Karolyi, followed her historic victory with gold medals on balance beam and floor exercise at the inaugural Individual Apparatus World Championships in Paris in 1992.

And while she was unable to continue her individual success at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Zmeskal rallied in the team competition with the highest optional total of any country that day (39.687), which helped the U.S. secure the bronze medal.

Though she may not have lived up to external expectations in Barcelona, Zmeskal revealed a character worthy of any gold medal. It was discovered that she had competed with a stress fracture in her left ankle at those Olympics, yet the 16-year-old gymnast never used it as an excuse.

After a brief retirement, Zmeskal was lured back to competition by her love for the sport. A torn ACL ruined her comeback attempt for the 1996 Olympics, but she resumed training the following quadrennium before a torn Achilles’ tendon ultimately ended her competitive career for good.

Zmeskal’s passion for the sport never waned, however, and today she and husband Chris Burdette operate their own gym, Texas Dreams, in Coppell, Texas. The couple also have three kids of their own: Ryder, Koda and Riven Belle.

NATALIA SHAPOSHNIKOVA, Russia
Blessed with the limbs of a Bolshoi ballerina, Natalia Shaposhnikova actually began her sporting career as a rhythmic gymnast. But she soon transitioned to artistic gymnastics, where her unique blend of originality, acrobatics and style served her well.

Born June 24, 1961, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Shaposhnikova trained at Moscow Dynamo primarily under the venerable Vladislav Rastorotsky, who also coached Lyudmila Turischeva and Natalia Yurchenko.

Though she was not selected for the 1976 Olympic team, Shaposhnikova helped the Soviet Union win the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, France, where she also won the all-around bronze. The following year, she helped her team place second at the Worlds in Fort Worth, Texas.

Shaposhnikova finally got to compete in the Olympics in 1980, where she won golds with her team and on vault, and bronze medals on balance beam and floor exercise. After the compulsories, she was tied for first place with Romania’s Nadia Comaneci, and after optionals she ranked second behind East Germany’s Maxi Gnauck. In the all-around finals, however, she scored 9.90s on vault, uneven bars and balance beam, but only 9.75 on floor exercise. Her 79.025 aggregate total left her in fourth place, just 0.05 out of the medals.

Shaposhnikova retired in 1981, but her name lives on in the Code of Points for her innovative skill on uneven bars, which is still performed today in several variations. She also was credited as the first woman to perform a giant swing on the bars.

Shaposhnikova married fellow Soviet gymnast Pavel Sut in 1982, and today they have their own gym, Gymnastika, in West Patterson, N.J. One of their two children, Olga, coaches there as well.

ZOLTAN MAGYAR, Hungary

Gymnastics has seen few innovators as accomplished as Zoltan Magyar, who reigned over—and reinvented—a single event from 1973-80. When gymnastics enthusiasts hear the name Magyar, they immediately think of pommel horse.

Born Dec. 13, 1953, in Budapest, Hungary, Magyar was an only child whose father hoped he would become a football (soccer) player. Instead, Magyar began gymnastics at age 12, and at 14 was Pioneer Olympic champion, a competition held for school children in Hungary.

Coached by Laszlo Vigh, Magyar developed into the most dominant pommel horse worker of his time, succeeding the great Czech Miroslav Cerar on that tricky apparatus. Magyar’s mastery of pommel horse, however, was as much the result of his physical gifts as it was by circumstance. When his training gym underwent a long renovation in the late 1960s, Magyar and his teammates had nowhere to practice. So his coach moved the smallest piece of equipment, the pommel horse, into the dressing room.

Blessed with long arms that enabled him to swing high above the horse, Magyar was the first to travel the horse longitudinally. Called the Magyar Travel, that element is commonplace today, even among younger ability levels. But the second element that bears his name in the Code of Points, the Magyar Spindle, is still quite rare. Originally performed on the end of the horse, the skill involves the legs circling one way as the body rotates in the opposite direction. He also developed a travel that hopped from the pommels to the end of the horse.

Magyar’s expertise on pommel horse was indeed rare, and brought him two Olympic, three World, two World Cup and three European titles. It also earned him Hungarian Sportsman of the Year awards in 1974, ’78 and ’79.

Magyar retired from the sport after the 1980 Olympics—his third consecutive Games—and began practicing veterinary medicine in Budapest.

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“There is a magical appeal, a universal spark at the core of gymnastics, and Frank Bare found countless ways to share it with the world…”

With these words, Bart Conner, president of the IGHOF  board of directors, announced the creation on a new award in Frank Bare’s honor. The award will recognize individuals who have been instrument in sharing and promoting the magic of gymnastics to audiences and fans throughout North America and to the wider world.

So it is fitting that at the 2012 Induction Ceremonies this spring, the inaugural Frank Bare Award will be presented to Doug Wilson. Doug is an Emmy Award winning producer and director who was instrumental in bringing that special gymnastics magic to literally billions of people across the globe.

During his 50-year career with ABC Sports, Mr. Wilson played an integral role on the production staff of “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” — which literally created the golden age gymnastics during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. He was part of the Roone Arledge team that broadcast the 1968 Summer Olympics live and in color via satellite from Mexico City — a technological first. It was at these historic games that the legendary Olympic Champion Vera Caslavska captured the hearts of fans the world over.

Again, fittingly, Ms. Caslavska — who was inducted into the IGHOF in 1998, but was unable to attend the induction ceremony that year — is planning to be in attendance at the 2012 Induction Ceremonies, to be held on May 19th, at The Petroleum Club in Oklahoma City, OK.

It should be a reunion of legendary and magical poignancy!

For more information about attending the Induction Ceremonies, which are open to the public, and to make reservations, contact Lynn Landis by e-mail (lynn@intlgymnast.com) or phone: 405-364-5344.

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Announcing our Class of 2012!

Join us in Oklahoma City on May 19th!!

Congratulations to our Class of 2012! Kim Zmeskal (US), Natalya Shaposhnikova (Russia), and Zoltan Magyar (Hungary) will be inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame during the 16th Annual Induction Ceremonies, May 19, 2012. Joining them in celebration will be Olympic legend Vera Caslavska (Czech Republic), a member of our Class of 1998.

This year’s dinner will once again be held high atop the Oklahoma City, OK, skyline, at The Petroleum Club. Join us, won’t you, for the most elegant, inspiring evening on the gymnastics calendar!

For more information, and to make reservations, contact Lynn Landis by e-mail (lynn@intlgymnast.com) or phone: 405-364-5344.

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“I treasure this experience dearly…”

Today we begin a year-long celebration of “the moment” — a revisiting of the remarks made by our Honorees upon their induction into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

There is much to learn from and hold dear in these speeches. Among them is the discovery, time and again, that within the hearts of these champions there is a grace of thought and emotion that matches their artistic and athletic brilliance.

We begin the series with the acceptance speech of one of Japan’s greatest gymnastics legends, Mr. Takashi Ono, delivered June 26, 1998, during the Induction Ceremony for the Class of 1998, in Oklahoma City, OK, USA.

(This translation was delivered by charter member of the IGHOF Board of Directors, the late Mr. Frank Endo):

“Good evening, Ladies & Gentlemen,

“I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr. Frank Bare and the Board members of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame for giving me this great honor.

“Since the 1952 Helsinki Olympics thru the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for a period of 12 years, I was able to participate in 4 Olympics and 3 World Championships. During this period, I have met many wonderful people. I treasure this experience dearly.

“I would like to deepen my friendship and help contribute further for gymnastics. Gymnastics is a great sport that expresses beauty of movement, power and elegance, attracting people all over the world. Through gymnastics, I pray sincerely for world peace and happiness.

“I would like to thank Mr. Frank Endo who has helped the development of gymnastics in Japan and my induction into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. In conclusion, I wish the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame great success.

“Thank you.”

Additional remarks by Mr. Frank Endo immediately followed:

“I would like to add that I was invited to the pre-induction party for Mr. Takashi Ono in Tokyo on June 2nd. More than 300 people attended, paying $75.00 per person. This was a 2-hour standing buffet.

“I represented the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame and spoke about our organization. The Japanese consider the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame award as the ‘Nobel Prize for Gymnastics.’

“Mrs. Ono could not make the trip to Oklahoma City, as she is running for re-election for the Japanese Senate for the 3rd time. If elected, she will become a Minister in the new government. She was also a gymnast and participated in two Olympic Games.”

All of us associated with the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame remain eternally grateful to Frank Endo for both the lifetime of service he committed to the sport, and the grace with which represented the Hall — especially within the Japanese gymnastics community.

In the months ahead, we will continue to celebrate our inductees through their own words, as we bring you highlights from their acceptance speeches and remarks during the week-long Induction Ceremonies experience.

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Legends meeting legends in the making…

International Gymnastics Hall of Fame legends (and spouses) Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci scored a “perfect 10” this past weekend in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Their Bart & Nadia Sports & Health Festival was a smashing success, bringing thousands of participants together in a multi-faceted, interactive celebration of the joys and benefits of being physically active.

Gymnastics was certainly center stage during weekend-long event, with collegiate, boys and an international competitions taking place. Staying true to the Olympic and paralympic spirit, Bart and Nadia designed this gathering to be as all-inclusive as possible.  From kayaking to archery, rowing to shooting hockey pucks into a washing machine, every aspect pointed toward the simple truth — being active, healthy and adventurous is not only the key to living a vital, happy life…it’s FUN!

Here’s just one of many interviews Bart gave during the event:

Check out this link Shared via http://ow.ly:.

This is, indeed, a perfect example of how so many of our IGHOF inductees have brought to life our motto: “Where legends meet legends in the making”

Please share with us other examples you may be aware of around the globe where gymnastics’ greatest legends continue to promote the universality of sport and its impact on the well-being of society…especially children!

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The IGHOF launches a new Website

The International Gymnastics Hall of Fame has launched a newly redesigned website: www.ighof.com. Featuring videos, photos and information about 70+ legends of the sport, representing 20 nations, the website is designed to preserve, promote and share the stories of these inspirational champions.

Enjoy! And please send us your feedback on how we can continue to make the new website better.

Home page for the newly redesigned website of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

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The IGHOF Videos – Now on YouTube!

If you’ve been to the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame website, you know that we are big fans of video. On each Inductee’s web page, you can view the video package that was produced and played during their Induction Ceremony celebration in Oklahoma City.

Now those videos are available for viewing on YouTube, and they’ve all been gathered into one place: the Intl. Gymnastics Hall of Fame channel.

Check them out!

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