Tuesday, June 8, 2010


While I was hunting around for something else entirely recently, I found an old Sports Illustrated article about US gymnast Sabrina Mar during ther 1985 World Gymnastics Championships.  Mar was an exceptional gymnast in the eighties.  Born in the US of Chinese parents, she emerged after the 1984 Olympics as something of a promise for the next quad.

Mar claimed five medals at the US nationals in 1985, made event finals at both the 1985 and 1987 World Championships- remember that was no small feat for a US gymnast in those days- and had what was perhaps her best result, coming third at the USA vs USSR meet, placing ahead of Shevchenko and Laschenova in 1988.

Unfortunately, the supremely talented Miss Mar was sidelined by terrible back injuries which prevented her from going to the Olympics.

After leaving gymnastics, she later played the role of an orphan in the movie of Annie, then used the money she made to enrol in pre-med at UCLA, where she did not compete for the Bruins.  She later returned to university to study animation. 

Mar has had a very interesting life, both during and after gymnastics, and the article, called "Tumbling Into the Soviet Sea", though it does its best to play up the 'pain and popping pills' factor, captures a girl who was lively and curious and having a lot of fun in the sport. She was excited to be among the Soviet gymnasts for the first time but immmediately realised the incredible difference between their brand of gymnastics and hers;

"I thought I was training hard," said Mar, "but then I saw the Soviets, and I know I have to go home and train even harder. That's why I loved this competition. You got the chance to see who was doing what, and that is good. The thing that makes the Soviets so good is their form, their dance, their toe point—little things that stand out. They have more dedication. They take it more seriously. They look as though they have more concentration, more confidence. They do something, and they know they are going to hit. That is because there are so many gymnasts in Russia and they can never relax. They always train hard. In the U.S., there are not so many, and you tend to slack off in training."

She loved seeing gymnasts like Omeliantchik perform, however;

"Did you see that Omeliantchik? She's such a little cutie. Everybody loves her. I wish I could have talked to her. But the Russians don't like to socialize as much as we do. You smile and try to talk to them, but you can't."

 Here is a video of her performing in 1985, not long after she emerged in the sport. The dance is kind of horrid in its eighties way, but at least she put her all into it!!


Sabrina's mother's talk about her daughter's intial reticence about pushing herself forward, and the cultural factors she believed affected her daughter's early performances was quite interesting.

Interesting too, is to note the sympathy US coach, Don Peters expressed for Olga Mostepanova's withdrawal from the Worlds AA in 1985.

"I'd like to see a doctor examine those Kids," said U.S. coach Don Peters. "I'm sure they are not injured. I feel sorry for Mostepanova, especially for her. She should have won [the worlds] in 1983, but the judges underscored her, and she a came in second. Now she has a second chance here, and they do this. That's cruel. They just want to win." And they did. After the dust cleared, Omeliantchik and Shoushounova tied for the all-around "old medal."

The sad thing is, even if doctors had examined them- I am sure they would have found some injuries and the girl's would have been told to claim pain, I am sure.  I find it hard to imagine any of those Soviet gymnasts working without some level of injury, especially considering how hard they worked.

Thanks to Gymnastics Greats for the info on Mar's later career.

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