We recently caught up with 1983 World All-Around Champion Natalia Yurchenko (USSR), who is now coaching in Chicago. In this interview, she discusses her new gym, her eponymous vault that changed gymnastics, the Code of Points, and more.
Inside Gymnastics: What have you been up to lately?
Natalia Yurchenko: Along with my partners, I just opened my first gym called C.I.T.Y. Club Gymnastics Academy – International Team Yurchenko, located in the heart of Chicago, Illinois, which I’m extremely excited about! At this gym, I am planning to build a very serious and strong gymnastics program focused on Optional, TOPs and Elite programs. This is not going to happen overnight. So my team is ready for a long, hard journey. Wish us success!
In addition, with another partner, I’m building a company called Yurchenko Gymnastics which will soon be releasing a new collection of gymnastics gear. Our first appearance will be at Chicago Style 2016, which will be held from February 12-14 at Navy Pier in downtown Chicago.
Inside: How did you learn the Yurchenko-style vault?
Natalia: Coach Vladislav Rastorotsky came up with the idea. First, we started with the back handspring over stacked mats into the pit. I flipped and twisted right away. A week later, I started over the horse (the old-style vault equipment). But, before we started, we had to come up with an idea regarding how to make the board area safe (like today’s vault safety zone). I felt a bit nervous in the beginning. But, later, it became consistent and developed a lot more block for the second part. We saw a lot of potential in this entry.
Training at home was pretty safe. So, even if I failed a lot, it was not devastating. The hardest part of performing the new vault in competition was not having any hand placement mat or safety zone around the board. The horse was narrow, which also did not help me feel safe. It was a challenge! I think I missed my hands a few times on the horse but luckily didn’t have any injuries.
The first time I performed the new vault at an international event was at the “Moscow News” tournament in 1982. I did a layout and tuck 1/1. It was a great success! The audience was amazed. And the gymnastics world was appreciative of my efforts to take that risk which led vault progress to where it is today.
Inside: What do you think of today’s Yurchenko vaults?
Natalia: My gymnastics career was devoted to moments like Maroney’s or Biles’ vaults. I feel very proud to have made this impact to gymnastics’ progress and history.
Inside: Was vault your favorite apparatus?
Natalia: No! I loved bars! I loved beam a lot too but not to compete. Doing my beam routine during practice was like singing a song.
Inside: What do you think of today’s Code of Points? Is it better or worse than in the 1970s?
Natalia: My generation of gymnasts [were] the tricksters. So, we always felt that we’d take risks and do new skills without being rewarded. I feel that today’s Code of Points is really fair. The trickster benefits from the additional risks they take. And, the execution score is very balanced. It is definitely better than in my time.
Inside: Do you think the “Perfect 10.0” should be reinstated in elite gymnastics?
Natalia: I’m not sure. As for myself, I received many 10s, not all of them being deserved. At the end of the day, the 10 would go to the best performance on the podium, even with some little mistakes.
Inside: Can you compare the Soviet Union team of your day to the currently dominating U.S. team?
Natalia: The Soviet team of the ‘80s was in complete domination of the world! The USSR Champion most likely became World Champion. Now, it’s Team USA! The U.S. team can easily put together a team of five that can compete against any team in the world.
Inside: Which do you prefer, coaching or competing?
Natalia: I really cannot compare them as they are two very different things. A gymnast is a brush in an artist’s hand while the coach is the artist creating a painting with a brush. Then, the gymnast slowly becomes an artist in her own right. It’s a transformation. I enjoy both.
Inside: What are some of your favorite gymnastics memories?
Natalia: My gym was a castle where I went every day with the feeling of how blessed I was to be selected to be part of the magical world of gymnastics.
Inside: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Natalia: To be successful, you have to love what you do!
Anna Rose Johnson writes about women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. She loves Whippets, brownies, and full-twisting double layouts. Her writing portfolio can be viewed at: https://annarosejohnson.contently.com