Former Olympian Olga Korbut on her legendary performance

This year’s Summer Games marks the 40th anniversary of Olga Korbut’s gold medal performance in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Her début on the Olympic scene not only charmed the world, but heralded the start of modern day gymnastics. By introducing more complex, advanced elements to the sport, she ushered in a new era. (A trick, the “Korbut Flip” was named for her.) Prior to this, female gymnasts were generally older and the focus was less on athleticism than elegance.

Viewed by a huge primetime TV audience, the performance of this previously unknown 17-year-old was nothing short of a sensation. As the media raved about the petite and personable gymnast from the Soviet Union, hoards of young girls in North America rushed to join gymnastic clubs. Pre-Olga, it was rare for Olympic gymnastics to make headlines.

“You have to dream, believe, and you will do it,” Olga told the BBC, when referring to overcoming the inevitable challenges of competition and sport.

Watch the performance that shot her to worldwide fame, as she reminisces on how she found the mental strength to move past a disastrous bar routine to claim the gold:

Olga has four Olympic gold medals under her belt, and she was the first gymnast to be inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. In 1994, she was named one of the Sports Illustrated’s 40 greatest athletes. According to her website,, she now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona — and, in case you’re wondering, she’s still involved with gymnastics.

Photo capture from