Thursday, October 13, 2011

Inspiration for McKayla: Those Were the Days.

At the world gymnastics championship in Tokyo American women's team won gold on Tuesday (11 October). The ever-strong Russians were in the second place. But there was a Russian inspiration in the American performance.

Years ago, in the early 90s, a young British journalist came to interview me at Izvestia in Moscow. The interview was the usual political fare of the day (the journalist is now one of the top UK political commentators). What made it different that day was that she was hopping along on crutches. Ever a gentleman I didn't mention the obvious physical condition until the business was over and I was helping her to the lift.
'What's happened to you?' I asked as casually as possible.
'Oh, I just wanted too much to be like Tourischeva', she replied defensively with what sounded a prepared and perhaps rehearsed phrase. When student, at a gymnastics class she developed a chronic sprain, which returned occasionally.

Tourischeva (centre) at the Munchen Olympics, 1972.
The Soviet gymnastics champion Lyudmila Tourischeva was the darling of the world in 1970s, the pretty face looking out from behind the otherwise grim façade of the 'evil empire'. Girls (and boys) all over the world were dreaming of her.

Young gymnasts competing today are daughters, or maybe even granddaughters of Tourischeva's fans. I wonder if they remember the Russian charm of those days fourty years ago?

Here is the winning performance of American McKayla Maroney in Tokyo. She did her somersaults to the tune of Those Were the Days, the Russian song that became so popular in its 1968 English version that now many don't even realise where it's from. Gene Raskin's lyrics are different from Konstantin Podrevsky's, but the melody by Boris Fomin is the same.

And here is Alexander Vertinsky's recording from 1926 when the song first became a hit among Russian emigres:

Vertinsky in 1910s

Photo of Lyudmila Tourischeva by Ulrich Kohls,  from

Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive).
Photo of Vertinsky from here.

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