Monday, November 23, 2009


She may have coached some amazing gymnasts while in the USA, but it is, as they say, hard to know if Armine Barutyan (Fong), given the chance, might have been a real Soviet champion.  If she'd been willing to change her name, move with her family from Armenia and do everything else the soviet government had expected of her, it is possible she could have.

But Armine had a strange, stowaway career.  She appeared in 1982, wowing judges and crowds in an Eastern Bloc tournament and beating out Romania's Simone Pauca, but then disappeared again until 1985 when she appeared to medals in a couple of prestigious european tournaments.  After being placed as merely an alternate on the Junior European team, she never really competed again.

Armine was known for having the best planche in the business, a triple back off bars, and a rumoured double layout beam dismount.  As the gymnastics Greats author claimed, like Olga Korbut, judges simply did not know what to do with her or her immense difficulty.

The Soviets didn't either.  She would not comply by coming to Moscow to train or Russifying her name to suit them.  It didn't matter what she could do.  Armine told a journalist that she once, after returned from a competition with a silver medal, the Russian coaches answered the question "who came second?" with "not one of us."

Sad. I just wish there was footage of that double back dismount.




  1. I don't mean to be really cynical, but I do think a lot of the talk surrounding Armine Barutian is myth/ rumour/ exaggeration. I just really can't see her doing a double layout dismount on beam, especially as her tumbling (that we saw) was good but not amazing on floor. (If she had a great double layout on floor I might have believed the beam dismount and I could also believe she did it into a pit).

    Whilst I don't dispute that the Russians wanted "Russian" sounding/ looking gymnasts on their team, there were other gymansts who came from the more obscure republics and/ or were of different ethnicities and still competed for the Soviet Union at a high level e.g. Nelli Kim whose father was of Korean descent and whose mother was a Tartar.

    I am sure Armine coming from Armenia did not exactly aid her progress but I do not think that was the main reason she did not make any teams. I think it was mainly a case of the Soviet depth. At around the same time as Barutian was competing, Natalia Frolova, Svetlana Lebedinskaya, Aleftina Priakhina etc. were all more deserving of a spot on a World team imo (and none of them got one either).

  2. There were definitely elements throughout her routine that reminded me of Courtney McCool's beam work. Very cool video, and interesting to see those similarities.

  3. I am not entirely sure, but I think the racial tensions between soviet 'Russians' and soviet republics like Armenia and Kazakhstan (where Kim grew up) were much more severe in the mid-eighties due to waning soviet rule than they were in the mid-seventies, because these republic were more and more desperate to gain total autonomy and the russian were reponding to that (hence the coaches comment 'not from here' in a 'if that's what they want, they can have it' way). Perhaps that has more to do with it than any kind of racial purity question. I don't know.

  4. Also, I believe she has said herself that the problem was not that she wasn't selected for being Armenian, but rather, because of centralised training, they wanted her to leave her coach and move to Moscow which she was not prepared to do. It wasn't that she wasn't chosen.

  5. They also wanted to give her a Russian sounding name. As an Armenian... I understand her need to keep her heritage.