Yelena Davydova

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Yelena Davydova
Alternative name(s)Elena Davydova
Country represented Soviet Union
Born (1961-08-07) 7 August 1961 (age 57)
Voronezh, Soviet Union
HometownSaint Petersburg, Russia
ResidenceOshawa, Ontario, Canada
DisciplineWomen's artistic gymnastics
LevelSenior Elite

Yelena Viktorovna Davydova (Russian: Еле́на Ви́кторовна Давы́дова; born 7 August 1961) is a Russian-Canadian gymnastics coach and judge who competed for the former Soviet Union. She was the women's artistic individual all-around champion at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and owns Gemini Gymnastics, a high performance Canadian gymnastics club in Oshawa, Ontario where she is also the head coach. In July 2012, Davydova was one of the coaches of the Canadian Women's Artistic Gymnastics Team. Kristina Vaculik, coached by Davydova, was a member of the team, which placed fifth over-all in the team event, the best placement for a Canadian gymnastics team in Olympic history. In 2016, Davydova completed the circle, representing Canada as Head Floor Judge at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Davydova was known for her cutting-edge difficulty, innovation and charming performances.

In October 2016, she was elected a member of the International Gymnastics Federation's Women Technical Committee.[1]

Childhood training[edit]

Davydova was born in Voronezh, 500 kilometres south of Moscow. She became interested in gymnastics at age six after seeing on television the famous Soviet Olympic gold medallists Larisa Petrik and Natalia Kuchinskaya. She practicised the splits to see if she also could do them. Deciding she wanted to be a gymnast Elena went by herself to be enrolled in Voronezh's famous Spartak Gymnastics school, yet was turned away, as she was very small, and considered at the time to have the wrong physique for the sport."They would call me Kolobok after the little fairytale pancake". Rather than giving up however, she secretly watched the lessons through windows and tried to imitate in the schoolyard what she had observed."My Mom wanted me to do Piano and I would run away from it to do gymnastics".

Soon a coach at the school, Gennadiy Korshunov, noticed her. She had drawn a balance beam in the sand and was practising moves on it like a real gymnast. He invited her into the school. He asked his wife, Ina, also a gymnastics coach at the school, to train Davydova in her group. Yuri Shtukman, the administrator at the school, did not like this initiative by his new training staff and reprimanded the Korshunovs; however he allowed Davydova to stay in the school. It soon became apparent that she was a talented gymnast and Gennadiy took over her coaching himself. By 1972 Davydova was the best in her age group at the school.

Young competition life[edit]

In 1973 Yelena Davydova won her first International Tournament. In 1974 she became a member of the USSR junior squad. At the 1975 USSR junior Championships Davydova finished 3rd AA and won golds on vault and bars. Following her success here she became a member of the senior squad. In March 1976 Davydova achieved 2nd place All-Around at the USSR championships, in her first try as a senior. She also won the gold on bars and a silver on floor. In the Sovetskii Sport magazine Ally Svirsky wrote "Davydova's exercise included a complex salto between the bars". She added " Davydova's routines were adorned with many original parts. For example, she took her hands off in a handstand on the high bar and changed the position of her hands. She earned a 10.0". Another Soviet paper wrote "She is so fast it looks like an aeroplane propellor is whirling". At the inaugural American Cup, Davydova astonished the gymnastics world by performing a side somersault on the beam, the first woman to do so. However, she only received 3rd place AA, due to her poor health in the match. The competition was won by Nadia Comăneci, whose gymnastics Yelena Davydova greatly admired. At the USSR Cup Davydova tied for 6th place AA – and won bronze on vault, only 0.025 behind world vault championOlga Korbut — but only the top 5 and one gymnast in 9th place were chosen for the Soviet Olympic team. Sovetski Sport, 22 June 1976, "We won't anticipate the decision of the Training Council who must name the members of the Olympic team. But we shall note that the new wave – M. Filatova, N. Shaposhnikova, E. Davydova and O. Koval – were well prepared and appear to be more useful than the more experienced sportsmen" Larisa Latynina, who had won 18 Olympic medals – a record for either gender in any sport, was the senior coach for the team, and was determined to uphold the classical gymnastics tradition against the new athletic school of gymnastics as represented by Comaneci, Davydova and others. Two days before the Games began The Training Council ( the governing body of Soviet Gymnastics) criticised Latynina for leaving behind Davydova and Shaposhnikova.

In August Davydova won the Antibes tournament in France by 0.6 points. In addition, she won gold on the vault, and silvers on the events beam, bars, and floor. At the Riga International Elena scored the absolute highest score of the competition (9.75 on vault) and won silver in the AA competition. She dominated event finals with almost a clean sweep winning 3 gold (beam, vault, bars) and a bronze on floor. In October, she was made a member of the USSR gymnastics display team, which visited the UK. She subsequently performed her beam routine on the Blue Peter show, an educational/entertainment show for children and teenagers and, was featured in that year's Blue Peter annual.

In December of '76, Davydova finished 3rd AA at the Chunichi Cup in Japan, and won a gold on vault and a bronze on floor at the Tokyo Cup. She was the only woman in the competition to perform a front somersault vault. She also tied 1st AA with Kische and Kraker of East Germany. Kische had finished 8th AA at the Montreal Olympics. Despite the presence of Olympians such as Comaneci, Ungureanu, Kim, and Grozdova in the Chunichi Cup, Davydova was described as the "most exciting performer and certainly the most happy bubbly personality". One Japanese sports commentator wrote the prediction that "It was young Yelena Davydova who deserved special attention for her super difficult exercises. She is a new infant prodigy for the Soviet Union, no less talented than Kim, Turischeva, or Filatova." In 1977 Davydova again won the gold medal on bars at the USSR Cup, scoring a full 10.

In September 1977 Yelena Davydova appeared on the front cover of a new magazine with an emphasis on young gymnasts, entitled Gymnastics World. She was one of the four "Mighty Mites" featured in that issue. She was also a member of the USSR Display Team, along woth Kim, Korbut, Grosdova, Filatova and Gorbik that performed in Great Britain. The Daily Mirror programme wrote about Davydova "She is the only girl in the team who has perfected the somersault onto the beam to commence her exercise. In previous years she has held most of the national titles for girls and one time held all the junior titles of the Soviet Union."

Elena suffered a serious injury when a bone detached itself from her knee. A medical specialist told her that her injury could be repaired through surgery. Her chances of ever again competing at the highest level would be negligible. In fact it could mean she would never be a gymnast again. Elena took plenty of rest and homeopathic treatments. Her resilience and spirit won through. "When I was injured my coach believed in me and didn't give up on me. In my mind I knew I could still be on the team. I kept going." She did well at school, was an avid reader, particularly world classics, and enjoyed history and science fiction and going to the cinema and theatre. Korshunov remembered "She never misses a chance of buying new books when competing in other places. Elena swallows one book after another. I see one book lying, next to her bag one day, a new one is there the next day." She played checkers. She enjoyed going on angling trips with Viktor, her father, and Gennady. "I like to read and listen to music, but mostly I enjoy a few quiet hours by the water. I love to go fishing. I spend a lot of time fishing with my father or my coach, either on a lake in a boat, or on the banks of the Neva." She enjoyed cooking and baking. As with many gymnasts she has a fondness for ice cream.

In 1978 Gennady Korshunov and his wife were invited to coach gymnastics in Leningrad, the birthcity of Gennady. Yelena Davydova and her family moved along with the Korshunov family. She achieved a silver AA at the Spartakiade of Russian Federation Sports Schools meet, and bronze AA at the USSR Cup, being the top scorer on both beam and bars. Shortly after, Davydova won the AA title at the prestigious Chunichi Cup in Japan defeating Maxi Gnauck. Her win by 0.55 points remains the joint 3rd highest margin of victory in the competition's 34-year history. She also won gold on the bars and vault at the Tokyo Cup. As a result, she was chosen to be a member of the USSR team at the World Championships at Strasbourg in France. However, on the day of competition she was named as an alternate, and unable to compete.

At the 1979 Coca-Cola International in England Davydova won a gold on floor and would have shared gold on bars, but her coach blocked the line of vision of one of the judges, and she suffered the mandatory 0.3 deduction. She finished 2nd AA at the Simo Sappien memorial tournament in Finland. Yelena Davydova was unable to attend the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth, U.S., however, because of a case of flu. At the World University Games in Mexico she won team gold, 3rd AA, and a silver medal on floor and bronze on vault in event finals.

In 1979 Olga Korbut named Davydova, Stella Zakharova, and Natalia Shaposhnikova as the three most promising young gymnasts.

Full-fledged Olympian[edit]

At the 1980 Moscow News Tournament Davydova amazed the experts again by performing a full-on, full off vault. This vault had only ever been done before by Olga Korbut. Josef Goehler, vice-president of the West German gymnastics federation wrote in IG, July 1980, p. 30, "Elena Davidova caused a stir at the Moscow News Tournament when she got into Olga Korbut's footsteps in horse-vaulting: she did a full twist in pre-flight, and in the second flight phase, with a handspring body extended, another twist of 360 degrees around the body length axis. Lets just recall that Olga Korbut did that "Korbut twist" for the first time at the World Championships at Varna 1974 and won the title of world vault champion with it. It took years until we now have another gymnast who tries and risks this element of top virtuosity with perfect body control." Davydova won a gold and 3 silver at the Moscow News Tournament. At the 1980 USSR Championships in April in Kiev Davydova won gold on vault- unveiling her unique vault full twist on, front somi off and scoring a 10 – and finished 3rd AA.

The Soviet Olympic gymnastics team was to be chosen after the USSR Cup competition in Moscow on 19–22 June. For gymnasts of this generation it was a make-or-break contest. The judges and Soviet officials wanted to determine whose gymnastics would stand up best under the extremely high pressure conditions that would exist at the Olympics. It was run according to procedures for the Olympic Games – a full 4 day competition of compulsories, optionals, AA and event finals. Elena had finished joint 6th at the 1976 USSR Cup but that turned out to be insufficient to be placed on the squad. She knew this time only a top 3 place would give her a spot on the team. Davydova won it comfortably and scored a 10 on floor. She finished 0.5 ahead of her nearest rival, Natalia Shaposhnikova, 0.8 ahead of Zakharova, nearly a full 1.0 ahead of Filatova and a galactic 3.375 ahead of Mukhina.

Just before the Olympics, the Romanian Head Coach Béla Károlyi named Davydova as Nadia Comăneci's main rival for the Olympic title. Frank Taylor, 16 years President of the World Association of Sports Writers and author of "The Comaneci Story", went one step further and predicted Davydova would be the winner. BBC radio reported on podium training at the Olympics, discussing the established stars but added that on the basis of what they had seen they advised viewers to watch out for Yelena Davydova, and that if she performed as well as in training, then she would take gold for her daring routines.

Missing from the 1980 Olympics was the 1978 World Champion, Elena Mukhina, who had been paralyzed after an accident while training. She was unable to speak for 6 months and remained in a wheelchair until her death in December 2006. Davydova kept in contact with her and Mukhina described her as "a real friend." Mukhina was not expected to be on the USSR team. In 1979 she had broken her leg and it didn't set right. She was unable to master her old skills. In the spring of 1980 the Soviets split the senior elites into 2 groups – those who were on the Olympic squad and those that weren't. Mukhina had not competed for the first 6 months of 1980 until she finished 14th AA at the USSR Cup. Mukhina was in the 2nd group training in Minsk when the accident happened.

In the team competition – whose scores counted towards both AA medals and event finals – Davydova was hampered by performing 4th for her team before Kim and ShaposhnikovaComaneci and Gnauck performed 6th for their respective teams. The scores tend to rise with each routine – known as the staircase effect – giving the gymnasts performing last for their team a head start when it came to scoring.

Only 3 members out of 6 from any team could go through to the All-Around final and only 2 to an event final. Davydova qualified for two event finals – beam and vault – but it is believed would have qualified for bars and floor event finals also, had she competed last for her team instead of 4th on the list.

Nadia Comăneci scored a 10 on beam in compulsories, her first perfect score on beam in a major competition since 1977. Yelena Davydova performed very solidly, scoring 39.4, but finished the first day in 7th place behind 3 of her own teammates and equal with another. The leaders were Comaneci and Shaposhnikova, both scoring 39.85. At this stage of the competition in Montreal 76 Comaneci had scored 39.35.

In the optional exercises Davydova came into her own, outscoring all her teammates and meriting a 10 on floor. Barbara Slater, who had been a British gymnast in Montreal and was a TV commentator in 1980, described Davydova's floor exercise as the "performance of the Olympics." Nik Stuart, 9 times British AA champion and the first British national coach, stated that "Her floor exercise is the most complex ever designed for a female gymnast, full of difficulty and fluidity." US gymnast Karen Le Mond stated that Davydova's FX had "harder tumbling passes than the best 10 has ever had." Another commentator wrote "No gymnast of either sex has ever attempted so complicated or complex a routine." The FIG website praises her "delightful dance movements." Glenn Sundby, editor of International Gymnast magazine, commented that "Davydova would have won anywhere on this earth with that floor routine." This routine is also praised in Michael Murphy's 1992 book "The Future of The Body". This was only the second time a perfect score of 10 had been scored on fx at an Olympics; it was the 1st ever 10 scored in team optionals fx and the only 10 scored on fx – in either women's or men's gymnastics – at the 1980 Olympics.

During this part of the competition Nadia Comăneci fell from bars attempting a Hecht 1/2, a move she had also fallen from at the 1979 World Cup. The judges gave her a 9.5, which means she would have scored a 10 without the fall. Comaneci scored 39.2.

All-Around Olympic Champion[edit]

Thursday 24 July began the All-Around final. Davydova began in 5th place. In first place was Gnauck, GDR, then Shaposhnikova USSR, 3rd Eberle Romania, 4th Comaneci Romania. Davydova began on beam, Gnauck on bars, Comaneci on floor – a disadvantage for Davydova because there is such a premium of accuracy in the beam exercise that the gymnast prefers to be fully attuned to the rigours of that days competition before attempting it. On a later occasion Bela Karolyi said "To start with the balance beam, that is like a ditch, a hell". Early jitters can be magnified into disasters.

There were only 4 routines left for each gymnast to compete. With 2 down and 2 to go the places were now: Gnauck 1st, Davydova 2nd, Shaposhnikova and Comaneci joint 3rd. Nadia Comăneci then scored a 10 on bars, the only gymnast to receive a perfect score that night. (It was her first perfect score on bars in a major competition since the 1976 Olympics). Neil Admur, New York Times, 25 July 1980, A17, "The drama on the final rotation added to the suspense. Miss Gnauck was second among the 9 gymnasts on the vault, Miss Davydova seventh on the bars and Miss Comaneci eight on the beam". Maxi Gnauck held the lead until her last routine when she vaulted insecurely. She scored 9.7, on a vault with a start value of 9.9, the same as she had scored for this vault at 1979 European Championships in Denmark and 79 World Championships in United States. Barry Lorge, Washington Post, 25 July 1980, p. 9, "Gnauck, first of the contenders up in the fourth and final rotation. Her first vault looked good but was too safe : 9.7. She knew she had to do better but she buckled on the landing of her second vault". Peter Aykroyd, International Gymnastics : Sport, Art or Science ?, 1987, p. 68, "She went into the all-round finals with a slight lead, but weak vaulting lost her this advantage".

Yelena Davydova had scored 9.85 on beam, 9.95 on floor (Comaneci has described Davydova's routine as "Excellent"), 9.9 on vault. She now had her bars exercise left to compete. Only a great exercise would be good enough. But bars had a casualty list of high-profile gymnasts – and had cost many of them a medal. A mistake by Davydova would result in gold for either Gnauck or Comaneci. Davydova's exercise included a Tkatchev (which no other female gymnast could do at the time), long swing 1.5 pirouette, Giant. Anton Gadjos, in his 1997 book,"Artistic Gymnastics: A history of development" highlights Davydova's Tkatchev from the 80 Olympics. At the time it was a skill beyond the reach of all other women gymnasts. The New York Times noted that she "performed beautifully". The LA Times "A sterling performance". The Washington Post,"Davydova performed a fabulous routine, boldly and confidently". The FIG website describes this exercise as "Fantastic". United States Olympic book 1980, United States Olympic Committee, p. 141,"She approached the apparatus with the aplomb and poise of a gymnast several years her senior. Every move Davydova made on the uneven parallel bars was the move of a champion, a queen of all gymnasts". A minute after she had left the podium her score came up – 9.95. Davydova was in the lead and only Comaneci could overtake her.

Nadia Comăneci needed a score of 9.925 to tie or more than that to win the gold outright. The last time she had scored as high as this in an AA final was at the 76 Olympics. Out of the 100 optional beam exercises performed at the 1980 Olympics only 1 scored as high as Comaneci needed. After one of her back flips Comaneci had to flail her arms for balance. She broke the connection between her aerial walkover to aerial cartwheel with a pause. Her knee bent slightly under 360-degree rotation. She landed slightly askew, taking a step back (normally a 0.1 deduction).

The controversy began when no score was registered on the scoreboard. For half an hour gymnastics stole the screen from all the other sports and even the adverts on Western TV stations were delayed. Deductions were taken in tenths by the judges, i.e. 0 if the judge thought the exercise was perfect, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3 etc. The marks were 10 from the Bulgarian judge, 9.9 from the Czech judge, 9.8 from both the Soviet and Polish judges. With the top and bottom marks being discarded, and the remaining two being added together and then divided by two, this gave Nadia Comăneci a score of 9.85. This gave her a shared silver with Maxi Gnauck. Natalia Shaposhnikova finished 4th but would have shared a silver medal with them had she scored 0.05 extra.

Head Judge on beam, Maria Simionescu of Romania, refused to enter the score as it meant that Comaneci would not win gold. Madame Simionescu had been the Romanian women's gymnastics team coach at the 1956, 1960, 1964 Olympics. She had helped found the gymnastics school where Comaneci trained. Simionescu had been a friend of her since Comaneci's childhood and had given her ballet training. She had traveled with the Romanian team numerous times and socialized with them. She would intervene again in beam event final to restrict the score of Shaposhnikova which would give Comaneci beam gold. Nadia Comăneci repeated her score of 9.85 here. Although the Romanian Head Judge delayed the score of her fellow Romanian, holding up the AA competition for 28 minutes, it was eventually registered. The other Soviet gymnasts aided by an East German and a Swedish gymnast tossed Davydova in the air in celebration. At the 59th FIG General Assembly there was criticism of some of the judges at the 1980 Olympics. But the only Head Judge criticized – in either the men's or women's competition – was Simionescu. The report which included this criticism was accepted unanimously by the 48 Federation delegate present. In 1984, before the LA Olympics, the United States Gymnastics Federation proposed "When the average score of a gymnast is 9.8 or above, the Head judge should not be permitted to have discussion with any of the other judges concerning the final score."

Comaneci had outscored Davydova by 0.45 in compulsories but Davydova outscored her in all other stages of the competition where they met. Davydova outscored her by 0.4 in optionals, 0.1 in AA final, 0.3 in event finals.

Davydova appeared on the front cover of the European edition of Newsweek magazine, issue 4 August 1980. She was voted 14th best female athlete in the world that year. In the Soviet Union, a flower was named after the 2 Yelenas – Davydova and Naimushina. Under the present Olympic AA scoring system — New Life — Davydova would have won the 1980 AA title by a larger margin and would have won gold on beam. In addition to the AA gold, Davydova won a gold medal with the team and a silver medal on balance beam. While recognised as the best vaulter in event finals Davydova failed to stand her second vault and thus failed to medal. This vault is described below in the paragraph on the 1981 World Championships. In 1980 the gymnasts performed 2 different vaults and the scores were averaged instead of taking the best of the 2 scores as in Montreal Olympics ef. Davydova would have won gold with her 1st vault – scoring 9.95 – if the Montreal rules had still applied. Donnerstag 215,11 September 1980,"This gymnast led the way into the future in the vault finals, where she performed a flip flop salto with a pirouette off the board".

Davydova won AA gold exactly 2 weeks before her 19th birthday-older than nearly all recent Olympic gymnastic AA champions.

C. Robert Paul, Jr, first sports information Director and Director communications for the United States Olympic Committee, United States Olympic book 1980, p. 140–141,(On Davydova), "There was never a doubt about her all-around abilities. Simply stated, however, it was expected that judges, by their very nature, might favour the better known and more established international stars ... But the order of finish Davydova, Gnauck and Comaneci (tie), Shaposhnikova and Kim certainly accurately reflects the relative abilities of the worlds top gymnasts".

While there was some criticism of Davydova's victory in the general press this was mainly by reporters who did not know how gymnastics was scored < International Gymnast Magazine, IG, September 1980, p. 29>. Within the gymnastics community itself there was little doubt about the validity of Davydova's win[citation needed]: Nadia Comăneci herself acknowledges "That day, Yelena just performed better";[2] John Goodbody wrote that Davydova was successful because of her "consistency and her willingness to take risks"- over 3 days of competition her lowest score was a 9.8;[3] Glenn Sundby, then editor of the International Gymnast (IG) magazine, and founder member of the United States Gymnastics Federation and the International Gymnastics Hall OF Fame and the first Gymnastics World Cup; Zacharias Nikolaidis, editor of the Greek Gymnastics magazine Dynamiko; Ursel Baer, a British judge at the 80 Olympics,"Davydova richly deserved to be Olympic champion"; Elisa Estape, a Spanish coach who had all the routines filmed and evaluated praised Davydova's routines in the highest terms and said she should have won by more; Paul Williams, another British judge there,"Davydova fully deserved her gold medal, with a brilliant display of high quality work"; Maxi Gnauck's coach Juergen Heritz; Lyn Moran, assistant editor of IG and author of the book "The young Gymnasts"; Jeff Cheales, an Australian judge; Tom Ecker, author of "Olympic Facts and Fables"; Peter Shilston, columnist, British Gymnast magazine; John Rodda in his book "The Olympic Games";The Sony guide to Who's Who in The 1984 Olympics,1984, p. 125, Edited by Dick Emery; Frank Taylor, 16 years President of the World Association of Sports Writers and author of "The Comaneci Story"; Karen Inskip-Hayward, "The Golden Decade : women's gymnastics in the 1980s; Tony Duffy and Paul Wade Winning Women : The Changing Face of Women in Sport, p. 96,1982; C. Robert Paul, Jr, first sports information Director and Director communications for the United States Olympic Committee, United States Olympic book 1980, p. 140–141 ; The Book of Olympic Lists 2012 p. 96 David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky ISBN 978-1-84513-773-1 ; The Complete Book of the Olympics 2012 Edition p. 784–5 David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky ISBN 978-1-84513-695-6 ; The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC Athens to London 1894–2012 p. 235 David Miller ISBN 978-1-84596-611-9.

Post-Olympic sports achievements[edit]

On 3 July 1981 in Montreux, the 100th anniversary celebration of the International Gymnastics Federation took place. Davydova was invited to perform her famous floor exercise which she did twice and won a standing ovation from the people present. In August Elena won the tournament in Giresum, Turkey. She won the AA title and was top scorer on vault, bars, floor and joint top scorer on beam. She scored 10's on bars and floor. She won the AA title 0.35 ahead of Shaposhnikova,0.8 ahead of Natalia Yurchenko and 1.0 ahead of the 1980 World Cup winner Zakharova.

At the 1981 USSR Championships – the number one national championships in the world at that time – Davydova won the All-Around title plus golds on floor and vault and bronze on bars. No other national championship attracted as much interest in the gymnastics community as the USSR Championship. It was notoriously difficult to win – Latynina was twice Olympic AA champion, twice European AA champion and once World champion before winning the Soviet AA title; Shushunova won 1 World championship, 1 European and 1 World Cup before winning the Soviet AA title; Turischeva had won 1 World and 1 European AA title. Others never won it despite success elsewhere e.g. Galina Rudiko World AA champion; Boginskaya, winner of 2 European and 1 World AA titles; Zakharova, winner of 2 World Cup AA titles;Olga Mostepanova, AA winner at the Alternate Olympics 1984.

Davydova also participated in the 1981 World Championships, her last major international event. The USSR won team gold. Davydova contributed more points towards the Soviet team score than anyone else. She finished third in the all-around final after an improper landing in the balance beam event. Had she not sat down on her beam dismount she would have won gold. Davydova suffered a serious neck injury in pre-competition warm up but still finished 3rd AA and was the only gymnast from any nation to make all 4 event finals. Davydova was the total points top scoring gymnast at the 1981 World Championships. She won silver on floor and bronze on bars. She would have won gold on vault but was unable to stand the incredibly difficult vault of her own invention, full twist on front tuck off. Jackie Fie, the US Head Judge on vault at the 81 World championships wrote that if the other vaults were to be marked out of 10 then Davydova's one should be scored out of 10.5. Davydova's vault was the pinnacle of the event. It was the most difficult vault of the competition – in either women's or men's gymnastics. Davydova is the only one who has done a vault that a male gymnast has not. Until Gabrielle Douglas 2015, she was the only IOC Olympic champion, since 1980, to have medalled in a World Championships after she had won the Olympic AA title.[4]

British Gymnast magazine, January, 84, p. 33, "In Olympic Panorama 1982 quoting Olga Korbut : "We perfected our saltos, pirouettes and flic-flacs. In this instance they seemed light and natural, and did not look like a bag of tricks. This is what made the audience gasp. Today this is happening more rarely, perhaps with Elena Davidova alone".

In October 1981 International Gymnast magazine (IG) chose Davydova as the model for their new IG pin, T-shirt and circulation add. The British Gymnast magazine's readers voted Davydova gymnast of the year in 80 and 81. At the British national championships for girls in 1982 Davydova was voted the favourite gymnast amongst the gymnasts taking part and was voted second favourite in 1983.

Davydova remained on the Soviet display team until 1984 but retired from competitive gymnastics in late 1982. She was competing on vault at the Rome gymnastics Grand Prix in 82 when she damaged her ankle. Later that year the West German newspaper Die Weltnoted that Elena had had a dangerous fall in training and asked "Will the case of Elena Davidova become a second case Mukhina?" Thankfully her injury wasn't as serious. She didn't want to finish Elite competition gymnastics and talked of defending her Olympic title in L.A. but it became obvious as time went on that her body could no longer stand the pounding of intense workouts.

Life after retirement from competition[edit]

Yelena Davydova attended the Leningrad University of Physical education and later received her doctorate in Pedagogical science at the P.F. Lesgraft State Institute of Athletic Education. The title of her thesis was "Nontraditional preparation of top gymnasts for competitions" and with it she was assisted by world-famous professors of medicine Kima Ivanova and Leonid Korolev. Upon graduation, in 1987, Davydova began coaching and served as an international Brevet judge. She began her coaching career with the Leningrad Olympic reserve college and was a coach with the Soviet national gymnastics team.

Davydova married boxing coach Pavel Filatov on 1 June 1983. They have two sons, Dmitrii (born 21 February 1985) and Anton (28 June 1995. The family moved to Canada in 1991. Davydova now owns Gemini Gymnastics, a high performance gymnastics club in Oshawa, Ontario where she has been a coach since immigrating to Canada, and Head Coach since 1999. Some of her better known gymnasts include Stephanie Capucitti, Sarah Deegan, Danielle Hicks, Katherine Fairhurst, Kristina Vaculik, Brittnee Habbib, Kelsey Hope. She was beam coach for the Canadian women's team at the 1995 World Championships and one of the Canadian women's team coaches at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Davydova was twice named Gymnastics Canada Gymnastique coach of the year. In October 2005 Elena was chosen for the Coaching Association of Canada's Women in Coaching National Team Coaching Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, 2006 and 2010 Gymnastics Canada Gymnastique awarded Elena and long-time associate coach, Valery Yahchybekov, as the "Junior High Performance Coaches of the Year". Gemini Gymnastics has been recognised by GCG as Club of Excellence for 10 consecutive years since the inception of the awards in 2001. It is 1 of only 2 clubs to do so. In 2006 Gemini received the prestigious Gymnastics Canada Ed Broughan award for "Club of the Year". As of 2012 Gemini have produced 15 Canadian AA champions,8 Elite Canada AA champions,21 Eastern Canada AA champions,98 Ontario provincial AA champions plus gymnasts who have won a host of other medals and awards. In September 2007 Kristina Vaculik and Rebecca Simbudhas of Gemini represented Canada at the World Championships. In April 2008 Vaculik won gold and silver World Cup trophies. She was the Canadian team reserve at the Beijing Olympics. In March 2010, Vaculik earned 2 gold and 2 silver medals at the Cottbus World Cup, an unprecedented result for Canadian Artistic women's gymnastics. After attending Stanford for one year, Vaculik has taken a year off and returned to Gemini in 2011 to train with Davydova in hopes of winning a spot on the 2012 Canadian Artistic Gymnastics team. In October 2011, Vaculik was named to the Canadian team and, coached by Davydova, represented Canada at the World Cup in Tokyo, Japan, helping Team Canada finish in 11th place. At the end of October, 2011, Davydova and Vaculik travelled to Guadalajara, Mexico to compete for Team Canada in the Pan Am Games, coming home with team silver, and an individual bronze all-around and silver beam event final medals. In December 2011 Elena fulfilled a dream by purchasing Gemini Gymnastics and becoming a club owner. In December, 2011, Davydova and Kristina Vaculik, as well as younger sister Natalie Vaculik, headed to training camp where the Canadian team was chosen to attend the final Olympic qualifying event. Kristina was chosen to represent Canada, along with Madeline Gardiner, Victoria Moors (Cambridge, Ontario), Brittany Rogers (Vancouver, British Columbia), Christine Peng-Peng Lee (Toronto Ontario), Talia Chiarelli(former Ottawa resident living in Boston) and reserve Mikaela Gerber (Cambridge, Ontario). Davydova was chosen as one of two coaches to the women's team. On 11 January 2012, the Women's team secured a spot at the 2012 London Olympics by coming in second overall in the team event. Vaculik and Lee went on to 4th and 5th place respectively in event finals (uneven bars), Gardiner 4th (beam) and Moors garnered a silver on floor. In 2012 Gemini was awarded a Club of Excellence award, 1 of only 4 recognised across Canada, and 1 0f 2 to earn the highest gold level honour. In April 2012 Elena was named Ontario's Coach of the Year.

In 2005 Elena achieved the highest score on the Canadian Brevet judging course. In June 2006 she received the FIG Coaching Brevet. As of 2007 She is 1 of only 31 female coaches worldwide to hold this Brevet and the only Olympic AA champion. She was a judge at the 2009 World Championships. At the F.I.G. Academy coach education programme in Trinidad 2010 Davydova was the course director on apparatus preparation, choreography and balance beam.

Her parents are now retired. Her father Victor was a mechanic and her mother Tamara was employed at the Leningrad Optical and Mechanical Works. Her brother Yuri, who is 12 years younger than Davydova, still lives in Russia as well. Elena was part of the Saint Petersburg delegation which unsuccessfully tried to win the 2004 Olympic Games for that city.

Olympics once again[edit]

On 28 June 2012, Elena was named as one of coaches to the Canadian Women's Artistics Gymnastics team for the 2012 Olympics in London, England. Kristina Vaculik, who trained under Elena and Valery Yahchybekov at Gemini Gymnastics, was named to the team as well, the first Gemini gymnast and first of Elena's gymnasts, to reach this goal, following her mentor, Elena, to the Olympics.

Team Canada made history when, on 29 July 2012, Team Canada coached by Elena and David Brubaker of Bluewater Gynnastics in Sarnia, earned a berth in the team final event. This was the first time that a Canadian gymnastics team, either male or female, had qualified for the team event in a non-boycotted Olympics. As well, Dominique Pegg earned a spot in the all-around event, and Brittany Rogers and Ellie Black both qualified for the vault finals.

The Team finals were seen as a battle between the Americans, Russians and the Chinese, although the Romanians couldn't be counted out either. The other countries competing were Japan, Italy and Great Britain. The Canadians came out and gave it all they had. Each member of the team, Kristina Vaculik, Dominique Pegg, Ellie Black, Brittany Rogers and Victoria Moors, competed in at least two events. When the scores were tallied, Canada astonished the crowd by coming in fifth, just behind the Chinese, who had won the team event at the 2008 Olympics – a spectacular score for a team which had not been expected to be a contender.

In commenting about the teams, accomplishment, Davydova compared it to winning the all-around gold medal at the 1980 Olympics.

"It was like I just won the Olympics one more time," she said. "For Canada, it was equal to being an Olympic champion. You've seen history two times at the same Olympics. We've never made finals as a team at Olympics, that was one, and then another one, fifth, the best result ever. That's amazing."[5]

The Olympic Trifecta[edit]

In August, 2016, Elena represented Canada as a judge at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Women's Artistic Gymnastics.[6] Elena was named as head judge for the women's floor events at the Olympics. This meant that Elena had now attended the Olympics in all capacities – as an athlete, a coach and a judge – something that is rare in the world of athletics, and almost unheard of in gymnastics.

Acknowledgements in the recent times[edit]

In its 1991 publication, Objectif an 2000, the FIG have a section entitled "Some of the Gymnasts who contributed to the Major Developments". 18 female Artistic gymnasts are named of whom Davydova is one.[7] On the IG website they feature "Legends of Gymnastics". 15 female Artistic gymnasts are profiled, one of whom is Davydova.[8] In 1994 to commemorate the World Championships in Brisbane Australia the Australian government produced first day covers of several famous gymnasts including Davydova In 1996 she was invited by the Atlanta organising committee to the Olympic Games where she met US President Bill Clinton. In 2000 Elena was one of the gymnasts pictured in the International Gymnast's (IG) Millennium calendar. On 11 May 2007 Elena was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame ( IGHOF) – regarded as the Nobel Prize for gymnastics – where special mention was made of her as a gymnastics innovator. IGHOF website "Yelena Davydova cast a charm on audiences by weaving her flowing routines with cutting-edge difficulty. Davydova's capacity to dare some of the riskiest elements was matched by her exquisite presentation". IGHOF video "One of the most original precise and elegant of all the legendary Soviet stars was Yelena Davydova. When she first entered the international scene it was clear she would make an impact with her clean execution and exquisite form ... In the 1978 Chunichi Cup in Japan her fluid style on balance beam was becoming a trademark ... In the 1980 Olympics Davydova scored no less than 9.8 on every event over the 3 days of competition to win the allaround gold medal".

Special skills[edit]

In terms of difficulty Elena advanced the sport of gymnastics extended its limits. Brian Bakalar, owner and head coach at Gymnastics Revolution in Bethel, Connecticut, U.S. wrote on his website in 2004 that "In the late 1970s Elena Davydova first performed a skill that has become the basis for today's optional uneven bar routines – the Giant".[9] Indeed, Davydova advanced the difficulty of gymnastics through the introduction of her moves, and is one of a select few to have introduced a new move and/or trend on each piece of apparatus. Davydova was the first female gymnast to perform an Arabian 1¾ somersault, and a piked Arabian 1¾ somersault on floor (both Arabian 1¾ moves removed from the code of points for female gymnasts by the FIG in 1993 for safety reasons, effectively banned because of their danger and difficulty.

Eponymous skills[edit]

Vault: Handspring forward onto table – tucked salto forward (5.2)

Uneven Bars: Swing forward counter-straddle reverse hecht over high bar to regrasp (D); almost universally referred to as a Tkatchev which is the name of the skill in Men's Artistic Gymnastics


Year Event AA Team VT UB BB FX
1976 USSR Championships 2nd 3rd
1977 USSR Championships 1st
1978 USSR Championships 3rd
USSR Cup 3rd
1980 USSR Championships 1st
USSR Cup 1st
Moscow Olympics 1st 1st 2nd
1981 World Championships 3rd 1st 3rd 2nd
USSR Championships 1st 1st 3rd 1st


  1. ^ Turner, Amanda (19 October 2016). "Morinari Watanabe Elected President of FIG". International Gymnast. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  2. ^ Comăneci, Nadia (2003). Letters to a young gymnast. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0.
  3. ^ Goodbody, John (1982). The illustrated history of gymnastics. London: Stanley Paul & Co. pp. 78–92. ISBN 0-09-143350-9.
  4. ^ "Simone Biles wins third all-around title at World Gymnastics Championships". Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Canadian Gymnasts make history by vaulting to fifth at Olympics". Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  6. ^ "2016 Rio Games". Archived from the original on 25 August 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  7. ^ FIG Objectif an 2000. 1991. pp. 122.s.
  8. ^ "Yelena Davydova". International Gymnast Online. Retrieved 26 March 2006.
  9. ^ "The Giant". Gymnastics Revolution. Archived from the original on 20 February 2006. Retrieved 26 March 2006.

On-line sources[edit]

Off-line sources[edit]

  • International Gymnast magazine
    • February 1077 p. 28–30
    • July 1980 p. 30
    • August 1980 p. 26
    • September 1980 p. 6,15,29.
    • October 1980 p. 11,21
    • November 1980 p. 30–31
    • December 1980 p. 48–50,62,70.
    • March 1981 p. 6
    • August 1981 p. 42–43
    • January 1982 p. 28
    • March 1982 p. 75
    • January 1998 p. 49
    • July/August 2007 p. 36
    • July/August 2010 p 19,29.
  • British Gymnast magazine
    • September 1980 p. 7,11,13–15,21–24,26,31
    • April 1981 p. 11,21–24
    • September 1981 p. 29
    • November 1981 p. 25
  • FIG World Gymnastics magazine
    • Vol 2, num 3
    • Vol 3, num 1
    • Vol 4, num 1.
    • March 2008, p. 8–9.
  • FIG Bulletin May 1983.
  • Daily Mirror Official Programme USSR Display Team 1977 and 1980.
  • Soviet Gymnastic Stars, Vladimir Golubev,1979, pp. 163, 207.
  • 638 Olympic Champions, Valeri Steinbach,1984, pp. 217, 218.
  • Wonderful moment of victory, 1983, pp. 8–14.
  • Artistic Gymnastics: A history of development, Anton Gadjos,1997, pp. 264, 265.
  • Winning Women : The Changing Face Of Women in Sport, p. 96, Tony Duffy and Paul Wade, ISBN 0-356-09493-6.
  • The Golden Decade : women's gymnastics in the 1980s – volume 1 – 1980–1984, Karen Inskip-Hayward.
  • The United States Olympic Book 1980, published by United States Olympic Committee.
  • The Book Of Olympic Lists 2012 p. 96 David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky ISBN 978-1-84513-773-1.
  • The Complete Book Of The Olympics 2012 Edition p. 784–5 David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky ISBN 978-1-84513-695-6.
  • The Official History Of The Olympic Games And The IOC Athens To London 1894–2012 p. 235 David Miller ISBN 978-1-84596-611-9

External links[edit]