The performative art of gymnastics involves a considerable amount of skill. The athletes have to perform stunts and experiences, competing with each other to get the top prize. The top female gymnasts in the Women’s Olympics are a treat to watch; they pair their strength and flexibility with balance and coordination in addition to many other qualities.
With just a few pieces of equipment or apparatus, gymnasts are able to exhibit handstands, flips, tumbles, splits, and so much more. It’s no wonder that the gymnastics part of the Olympics is one of the most popular segments, with millions tuning in to watch the talented participants show off their skills. These participants include a decent percentage of women, some of whom might be the most popular women in sports to date.
During the Olympics, female gymnasts have broken and made many records in their quest to win medals and establish their place in the history of sports. They have also made many innovations in the sport. Without further ado, let’s now look at the top 10 most famous athletes in Women’s Olympic Gymnastics:
1. Olga Korbut
Olga Korbut was a mere 17 years old when she won hearts by showing off her daring skills at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. Korbut was responsible for beginning a whole new era in the field of gymnastics; one which was mostly ruled by young and lithe female athletes. Her performance was in a class of its own, especially when compared to the likes of Larisa Latynina or Vera Caslavska, who had won all-around titles in the sport in the past four Olympic Games. Both of these gymnasts started out in the Olympics when they were in their twenties, not teens.
During her career, Korbut managed to gather a total of 13 medals from the Olympic Games as well as European Championships and World Championships. She was also the first gymnast ever to showcase a backward aerial somersault on a balance beam. Now this step is known as the Korbut flip–it was a daring stunt at the time and is now an element commonly used in women’s gymnastics. In her 1972 Olympic debut alone, she won three medals.
When Korbut was performing her historical backflip, she was given a score of 9.8. The crowd then roared for her to get a perfect score–this went on for several minutes, but the judges didn’t change their decision. Even so, Korbut’s cultural impact on Olympic gymnastics has been undeniable.
Along with her skills and talent, Korbut is also known for her emotional displays regarding her game. At one point, she shed tears after one of her uneven bars routine was botched, costing her the chance of getting an all-around gold medal. However, her tears were not to be mistaken for any weakness, as she won two gold medals (floor exercise and balance beam) just a few days later.
2. Nadia Comaneci
Some might argue that Nadia Comaneci is the best women’s gymnast to date, and her perfect ten in the 1976 Montreal Olympics does seem to support such beliefs. The legacy of this female gymnast started when she made the 3-digit scoreboards obsolete (her 10 was displayed as 1.00 at the time).
Comaneci didn’t stop with this perfect score, either. She scored six more 10s before the end of the Olympic Games that year. With 7 perfect scores, three gold medals, and one bronze, Nadia Comaneci seemed unstoppable. What is even more impressive is that the gymnast was a mere 14 years of age at the time.
Nadia Comaneci also had some innovative contributions to her sport. There are a few elements of gymnastics named after her–the Comaneci salto, the Comaneci layout, and the Comaneci dismount–all performed on the uneven bars.
Like Korbut, Comaneci managed to inspire a whole new generation of female gymnasts. While she officially retired from her professional career in 1984, Comaneci got a place in the International Gymnastics Hall of Games 12 years later in 1996. She was also given the Olympic order by the International Olympic Committee. This award is for those who have shown outstanding merit in sports, or given some unique services to the Olympics through personal achievements or contributions.
3. Svetlana Khorkina
Svetlana Khorkina has blazed a unique path in gymnastics, even though she’s faced quite a lot of bad luck when it comes to the Olympics all-around gold medal. Even so, her style was revolutionary enough to change gymnastics for the long haul.
With Khorkina’s lean stature and long legs, she had to put together gymnastic routines with a little ingenuity and innovative thinking. This creativity got at least eight elements named after Svetlana Khorkina, including two vaults, three uneven bars maneuvers, and two balance beam elements. One sort of jump on floor exercises was also inspired by Khorkina’s routines.
While she may not have been one of the most winning athletes of all time, Svetlana Khorkina dominated the gymnastic sport for almost ten years. She won an impressive collection of seven Olympic medals, which included consecutive titles for her performance on the uneven bars. With 20 World Championship medals, she is almost on an equal footing with Simone Biles.
4. Nastia Liukin
Nastia Liukin was the first woman ever to win at the Olympics after the implementation of the open-ended scoring system. Before that, the scoring had been pretty straightforward with values given on a scale of 0 to 10.
With her success, Nastia Liukin proved that women gymnasts could still combine their artistry and skill in the face of rules that made everything more difficult. As the daughter of Valeri and Anna Liukin (Olympic and World champions respectively), the talent for gymnastics ran in Nastia Liukin’s blood and made her a prodigy. She rose quickly in the United States junior ranks, though she was still too young to be part of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Though the start of her career was very promising, Nastia Liukin still missed out on a major all-around title at the international level. In 2005, she was behind Chellsie Memmel by just 0.001. In the following couple of years, Liukin suffered from injuries which kept her from performing at her full potential.
At that time, Nastia Liukin was just 19. While some advised her to quit training for gymnastics altogether, she still powered on to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. She managed to deliver where it was the most needed. Very soon, she became a player to contend with, becoming the third American woman to acquire the all-around gold medal in the Olympics. She also managed to hold off Shawn Johnson, who was the World Champion then.
5. Kerri Strug
Kerri Strug, a native of Arizona, was an instrumental force in leading the U.S women’s gymnastics team to the Olympics gold medal. She did this when she was 18, and it was the first such gold medal that the team had earned.
The way in which this achievement happened served to make the 1996 feat among the greatest Olympic moments ever.
Kerri’s team was dubbed ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and it held a large lead against the Russians while entering the final competitive round. The Russians were given the floor exercise, while the American had to vault. Unfortunately, four U.S athletes could not manage a clean landing. Dominique Moceanu also fell on both attempts, which resulted in a low score overall.
It was then that Strug stepped up as the last participant for her team. She had to score at least 9.6 in order to get the lead on Russia. On the first attempt, the landing was so wrong that her ankle snapped. Her score was 9.162. Her coach, Bela Karolyi, asked her to try again in order to get the gold medal for the team. In spite of a third degree lateral sprain and two damaged ligaments, Kerri went down for a second vault, executing it cleaning. She completed the routine despite being in agony due to her foot and mostly performing on just one leg. After getting a final score of 9.712, she dropped to her knees.
Though highly talented and skilled, Kerri wasn’t too successful when it came to individual disciplines. However, she’s still a famous name among the gymnastics champions in the Olympics.
6. Agnes Keleti
With World War II going on, the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were dismissed. This denied Agnes Keleti, the Hungarian gymnastic champion, a platform for showing off her skills during the peak of her strength. She was also injured and unable to make her debut at the Olympics in 1928 in London even though she had qualified. It wasn’t until she was 31 years old that Agnes was able to present Hungary at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics in Finland.
Agnes Keleti returned from these Games with one gold medal for floor exercise, a silver for team all-around, and two bronzes for uneven bars as well as portable apparatus (with her team).
Fast forward four years, and Keleti went on to become one of the most successful athletes participating in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. She was also the oldest female gymnast to win the gold medal. Eventually, her victory was clear in the uneven bars and balance beam and she received two silver medals. This brought her medal count up to 10.
7. Vera Caslavska
The Czechoslovakia gymnast Vera Caslavska is for now the only gymnast (regardless of sex or gender) to win the Olympic gold medal in each event–these are the floor exercise, beam, uneven bars, all-around, and vault.
Vera also won consecutive medals in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, which were held in Tokyo and Mexico City respectively. This is a record where she ties with the Russian legend Larisa Latynina. While winning the all-around title in 1968, she had an impressive victory margin totaling 1.4 points. This is still the largest such margin in the Olympics, World Championships, and European Championships for women.
Due to the political situation in her country, Vera Caslavska was forced to retire after 1968. There were also several controversial decisions surrounding her performance, of which one deprived her of the balance beam gold. She eventually gained 4 silver medals and 7 gold ones at the Olympics.
While her gymnastics career was excellent, Caslavska was also famous for her strong political views. She was against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and supported the Czechoslovak democratization movement. She showed her stance clearly by looking down and to the side during the Soviet national anthem. Her actions gained a lot of applause but she was then given the persona non grata treatment and retired from future events for some years. During this time, she wasn’t allowed to travel or work, or even attend any sporting events.
Fortunately, her situation would get better in the 1980s decade. The International Olympic Committee intervened and the Velvet Revolution occurred, improving her status quite rapidly. In the following decade, she gained many honorable positions including a stint as the Czech Olympic Committee president.
8. Larisa Latynina
This gymnast hailed from the USSR at the time, and had a great Olympic career that broke several records along the way. She had a whopping 18 medals, a record that stood unbeaten for close to 50 years (Michael Phelps was the one to break it in 2012).
Larisa managed to wow everyone in the audience in 1956 at Melbourne. With great stability, Larisa got six medals and won the floor exercise titles for the third time consecutively. Overall, this player is still hailed and being among the major influences causing the Soviet to dominate the gymnastic field.
9. Gina Gogean
Gina Gogean has around 30 medals for gymnastics from the Olympics, the European Championships, and World Championships. She is mainly known and revered for the difficulty of the stunts she attempted and pulled off in front of audiences. In 2013, she was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Gogean was also known to perform the same clanging tricks again and again with the same impressive result. While she did gain acknowledgement and rewards from judges due to her ability, she also faced criticism for apparently playing it safe once younger athletes started pushing even further and performing more difficult tricks. However, she still preserved and showed improvement year after year until her retirement.
10. Simone Biles
Several sources have listed Simone Biles as being the greatest gymnast in the history of the sport. She has dominated the field since at least 2013, winning three World all-around titles consecutively. This was the first time a woman had achieved this feat.
Biles didn’t stop there, either. She took the all-around gold medal in the Rio Olympic Games and was a major part of Team USA along with Ay Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, and other members. With this team effort, Team USA won its second consecutive gold medal at the Olympics. Overall, Biles’ stint at Rio that year was a majorly successful one. She had one bronze medal and four gold ones, with her performance earning her the status of a superstar as well.
Biles returned to gymnastics in 2018, with her performance making it seem like she had never taken a break at all. In the second competition after her return, Biles earned all the five gold medals at the U.S Championships. This feat was initially accomplished over ten years ago by Dominique Dawes in 1994.
At the World Championships only two months later, Biles was also the recipient of medals in six categories (which were all the categories the event had). She won her 4th consecutive World all-round title, making her hold the record for the highest number of World gold medals. With the kind of moves Biles has, we can only expect greater things from her in the future.
Gymnastics has been one of the traditional sports in the modern Olympics since their start in 1896. It’s among the most exciting and popular events. The rules have changed quite a bit, with the stakes getting higher and more challenging every year. Part of the transformations in this sport, especially on the Olympics level, have been due to the amazing female athletes discussed above. The standards may have changed, but the entertainment value of the sport remains to this day. While most lists of the top 10 most famous athletes of all time usually include a high percentage of males, there’s no doubt that many female gymnasts deserve to make the cut as well.