Monday 9 July 2012

Magic Moments Monday

The wonder of Lilia Podkopayeva

When looking back over previous Olympic Games there are so many Magic Moments. But the one that stands out for me as being more magic than most is watching the amazing Lilia Podkopayeva at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.

The 1996 Olympics was the first Olympic Games where I followed the gymnastics and I watched it from start to end. I also taped it so I could watch it again. And again. And again! Still not knowing much about gymnastics or the gymnasts, I knew that I had two favourites in Lavinia Milosovici and Shannon Miller. I knew I would be rooting for them and could only be happy if one of them won the all around title. But I was not prepared for the sheer joy of watching Lilia Podkopayeva.

Just through watching the compulsory routines it was easy to see that here was a superb gymnast. Making skills that others struggled with look effortless and giving her own style to the routines she was a delight to watch. It was no surprise that she posted the highest score after the compulsories.

I thought it could not get any better. Then I saw her optional routines. They were absolutely breathtaking. She was such a strong performer on all four apparatus and managed to bring her unique style to each routine along with exceptional skill, elegance and strength. I knew that I was watching a gymnast who not only could take the all around Gold medal but, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, should be the next Olympic All Around Champion. I was enthralled by all of her performances, but to my mind, her best by far was her floor routine. This routine contained absolutely everything that a Women's Artistic Gymnastics floor routine should have. There was strength, power and great difficulty in the tumbling, grace and elegance in the dance and beautiful presentation throughout. This was a routine that Lilia clearly enjoyed performing and one that I still enjoy watching to this day. She captured the essence of the music beautifully and the whole routine came together perfectly.

She qualified in 1st place to the all around competition, and with floor exercise as her final apparatus she took the Gold. It was so well deserved and to me she remains one of the greatest Olympic Champions of all time. She was the first gymnast since 1972 to take the all around title as the reigning World Champion, and to hold the all around European, World and Olympic titles simultaneously. She then went on to become the only female gymnast since Nadia Comaneci to take Gold in an event final in the same Olympic Games as winning the all around title, by taking the Gold on floor.

Lilia made three event finals in the Atlanta games, winning the floor title, taking the Silver on beam and finishing in 5th on bars. An uncharacteristic error in qualification meant that she did not make the vault final. As vault was considered one of Lilia's strengths this was a surprise to many people. In fact the first of the two vaults she performed in the 1996 Olympics is named after her and she performed it perfectly in the all around competition.

Unfortunately, injury meant that Lilia did not compete much after the 1996 Olympic Games, having to sit out of the 1997 World Championships and later retiring. It is such a shame that we were denied the opportunity to see more of this fabulous gymnast, having given us not just one but many magic moments throughout the 1996 Olympic Games.

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