Rhythmic Gymnastics 101: Olympic history

Rhythmic Gymnastics 101: Olympic history
Posted at 6:13 PM, Mar 08, 2021

Los Angeles, 1984: The Eastern-bloc boycott left rhythmic gymnastics without several top athletes for its Olympic debut (only an individual event) in Los Angeles. Among the absentees were the top five finishers from the 1983 World Championships. It was nonetheless surprising when 21-year-old Vancouver native Lori Fung -- 23rd at the 1983 Worlds -- won gold. Fung later performed for such dignitaries as Pope John Paul II, Elton John and Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Seoul, 1988: Belarus native Marina Lobach earned perfect scores across the board, thanks in part to a musician's versatility. During her clubs performance, Lobach nearly exceeded the time limit -- which would have drawn a penalty -- but her pianist picked up the pace, allowing the Soviet to complete her routine just in time.

Barcelona, 1992: Rhythmic gymnastics in Barcelona began with a new qualifying formula befuddling to many observers and competitors. It also saw Bulgaria's Maria Petrova penalized when her zipper broke during a routine, causing the back of her leotard to pop open. Ukraine's Aleksandra Timoshenko, representing the Unified Team, won gold. Oksana Skaldina, also from Ukraine, placed third and promptly accused the judges of favoring silver medalist Carolina Pascual Garcia because she was Spanish.

Atlanta, 1996: Rhythmic gymnastics' group competition debuted in Atlanta, and Spain edged Bulgaria for gold as a non-Eastern European nation enjoyed rare Olympic success in the sport. In the individual all-around, Ukraine's Yekaterina Serebryanskaya and Yelena Vitrichenko won gold and bronze, respectively, to flank Russian runner-up Yana Batyrshina on the podium. Bulgaria's Maria Petrova, a three-time world champion, again placed fifth and then accused the judges of being biased.

Sydney, 2000: Two nations with rich traditions in gymnastics, Russia and Belarus, tied for first in the rhythmic group event, with Russia winning gold through the tie-breaker system. The nations also went 1-2 in the individual all-around, as Yulia Barsukova capitalized on a hoop mistake by fellow Russian Alina Kabayeva (bronze) to win the title. Belarus's Yulia Raskina took silver. Barsukova, relatively old for her sport at 21, was a ballet specialist who often performed in concerts at Moscow's famed Bolshoi Theatre.

Athens, 2004: Russia's dominance in the sport was on full display when the nation took its second consecutive group gold, outdistancing silver medalist Italy by over one-and-a-half points. The next day, Alina Kabayeva and Irina Chaschina took individual gold and silver, respectively. For Kabayeva, a two-time world champion and five-time European champion, Olympic gold was the only individual title she had not won. 

Beijing, 2008: Yevgenia Kanayeva of Russia won the individual gold medal in impressive fashion, posting the top score on all four apparatuses and securing the most dominant win in the sport's Olympic history. She defeated Inna Zhukova of Belarus by more than three-and-a-half points. Anna Bessonova of Ukraine took home the bronze medal. In the group final, Russia won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal, edging China in second by 0.325 points. The team from Belarus finished third.

London, 2012: For the first time in Olympic history, an individual rhythmic gymnast successfully defended her all-around title. Russia's Yevgenia Kanayeva won her second Olympic gold in London, and at 22 years old became the oldest rhythmic gymnast to become Olympic champion. Russia's Daria Smitrieva and Belarus' Liubov Charkashyna took silver and bronze, respectively. In the group competition, the Russian women won their fourth consecutive title, followed by the groups from Belarus and Italy. 

Rio, 2016: After Yevgeniya Kanayeva retired, Russia's Margarita Mamun outscored teammate Yana Kudryavtseva to win the nation's fifth consecutive individual medal, and Russia went 1-2 for the third time (following 2004 and 2012). Ukraine's Hanna Rizatdinova won bronze. Bulgaria was Russia's biggest challenger in the group competition, leading the qualifying round by .233 of a point ahead of the defending Olympic champions. In the final, the Russians dominated to capture a fifth consecutive gold medal. Spain and Bulgaria tied for second place, but the silver went to Spain because their execution score was one tenth of a point higher.