May 27, 1955: The elite of the Soviet Men’s Artistic Gymnastics Team fell in line, a model team facing the judges of the USSR championships. Today, their names are etched in the legend of worldwide gymnastics. Standing side by side were Boris Chakline, Viktor Tchukarine, Valentin Muratov, Albert Azarian.
The stakes were clear cut. The best gymnasts would go to the Olympic Games in Melbourne (AUS) next year, while the rest would just go home! Yuri Titov was among the contenders, a man who would hold the FIG Presidency for 20 years (1976 – 1996).
It was the high bar final and Titov was a star player. All eyes were fixed on him. He’d never been to the Olympic Games, much less stepped foot in Australia! Tense and showing extreme concentration, he saluted the judges and advanced to the bar, ready.
But before even beginning his exercise, Yuri Titov would commit a fatal error!
He did his hair!
Seizing the bar with hands smeared with hair gel, he took the first swing and fell. His routine was over in a matter of seconds. The public was in a state of shock, Yuri’s coach dumbfounded. Titov watched as his Olympic dream took flight without him. A true catastrophe.
But when your name’s Yuri Titov, there’s always a way out. He went on to perform flawlessly, spectacularly; his brilliant routines convinced even the Soviet selectors, and he was on his way to Melbourne. As if to prove himself to his country, he took 3 individual medals, a Silver (high bar) and two Bronze (vault and all-around). Over the course of his career in sports, Yuri Titov would win a total of 33 medals, 21 of them in individual events. 11 were Gold! He has only one regret, the missing link of an individual Olympic title.
Today, he remembers and smiles at the capillary mishap that cost him dearly. It’s a lesson that the upcoming generation of gymnasts would do well to heed, concerned as they are with how their hair looks on international television!
This article is part of a weekly series in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games as the FIG remembers outstanding previous gymnasts.
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