Tuesday, August 31, 2010


From Russian Gym Federation Website

I was looking at the Russian Gymnastics Federation website the other day, and was reminded of something I read about the history of Russian Gymnastics a while back. The popularity of gymnastics can largely be attributed to a cultural reformer called Pyotr Lesgaft, who the website attributes a truly 'scientific discipline' of gymnastics for children of preschool age.

But as I know it, that is not all Pyotr Lesgaft did that we should be (very) grateful for.  Lesgaft, as I recall, called for gymnastics to be used as a discipline for all member of Russian society, particularly women.  Here, he was something of a social reformer, because he believed the freedom, the expression and the joy found in early gymnastics exercises was a means to liberating women, who were often the most repressed members of society.  He actively encouraged, in his extensive treatises on the subject of adopting German and Swedish style gymnastics for citizens, women to take up the practice of gymnastics in the very early twentieth century.

Artistic gymnastics was a means for women to experience the "freedom and suppleness which has been stolen from them"

 Without Pyotr, perhaps, as gymnastics developed into a competitive sports, we may not have been blessed with this tradition of WAG brilliance from Russia over the decades.And, I think they are well and truly on their way back.

(If you would like to know any more about pre and Soviet gymnasts history, British academic J. Riordan, who  produced books like "Sport in Soviet Society" is your go-to guy.  He was also called upon to talk about gymnastics in a couple of documentaries you may have seen, although he does not research gymnastics particularly.  I remember him saying once, that when the Olga Korbut craze happened in 1972, he had all kinds of people ringing him, going "Who is this girl?"!)


  1. If you want to know about Soviet gymnastics history, why not talk to an actual Soviet coach or gymnast or a Russian journalist who has covered gymnastics in the Soviet period, rather than some outsider who probably only spent a limited time observing their methods.

  2. Because there are, I doubt, many living pre-Soviet coaches. Besides, in this article I am talking about general history, not finding out how coaches trained gymnasts but rather the guiding philosophies that caused change and growth in the sport. Lesgaft was not a Soviet coach, but a cultural reformer, yet he impacted on women's gymnastics in a fundamental way. Riordan is one of the few english-language historians who spent a lot of time in the Soviet Union researching these areas. Besides, your question seems sort of nitpicky and obvious- I was talking about a specific instance of reform that only a Russian coach coaching in 1903 might know about and referring readers to some other reading should they be interested. Not everyone has a Soviet coach at their fingertips.