The 20th annual induction ceremony for the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame added another vital chapter in preserving gymnastics history. And for the first time in a few years, the event, held in Oklahoma City on May 21, enjoyed sunny skies instead of tornado threats.
Emcee Bart Conner inducted four legendary gymnasts in the following order: Aurelia Dobre (Romania), Igor Korobchinsky (Ukraine), Jordan Jovtchev (Bulgaria) and Tatiana Lysenko (Ukraine).
Dobre, the first Romanian to win the world all-around title (1987), gave a wonderful acceptance speech. "I am very humbled and honored to be here tonight," she said, before mentioning all of the people that had supported her as a young gymnast, including her parents. "Nadia was also a great inspiration to me."
She and her husband, Fariborz Mofid, have four boys, the oldest a recent graduate from Iowa, where he competed on the gymnastics team. They also run Dobre Gymnastics Academy in Gaithersburg, Md. "Gymnastics has affected me in so many positive ways," Dobre said in closing. And it's a sure bet that her elegant gymnastics inspired a whole generation of kids around the world.
Korobchinsky took the podium with the confidence he displayed as the 1989 all-around world champion. He began by revealing his start as a gymnast. "I saw (Nikolai) Andrianov (Hall of Fame Class of 2001) on high bar, and I said to my mom, 'I want to be like Andrianov.'" Had the Berlin Wall not come down just weeks after his amazing all-around victory in Stuttgart, Germany, Korobchinsky might have matched Andrianov's accomplishments. But as the Soviet Union dissolved into separate republics, and government funding for sports began to disappear, Korobchinsky forged on and eventually competed for his native Ukraine. "I am proud to be here (at the Hall of Fame dinner), because it's the best of the best of gymnastics." Korobchinsky, who now lives in Houston with his wife and two daughters, certainly fits right in.
Jovtchev, the only six-time Olympian in men's gymnastics, was always a man of few words; he let his gymnastics speak for itself. But his brief acceptance speech came straight from the heart. He began by saying he thought he was through with gymnastics after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, when he and two teammates decided to stay in the U.S. to find a better life. He ended up moving to Norman, Okla., and working at the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, where his career experienced a jump start that including four more Olympic Games. He specifically thanked his wife, Boriana, for all of the sacrifices she made along the way. "How thankful and proud I am tonight," said Jovtchev, the second Bulgarian to be inducted, after Stoyan Deltchev.
Lysenko provided a magnanimous close to the evening with a speech that was as complete as one of her routines. She began by wondering why Bart Conner (IGHOF Chairman of the Board) had called her in the first place. "This was the last thing I expected," she said of her induction. She marveled at "seeing my life unfold" during the video collage of her career, which was shown on large screens for all of the inductees. "I had to pause a minute to digest it."
Lysenko credited her coach, Oleg Ostapenko, for her success, and thanked everyone involved in the sport, even the officials. "Some of you have judged me," she began, looking in the direction of Jackie Fie, a former international judge. "Thank you for your generosity [laughter]." But then she got serious again. "What a big deal this is … I still feel in awe."
Prior to the the induction of the four athletes, the 1996 women's Olympic team was recognized for winning the first team gold for the U.S. in the Olympics. Five of the Magnificent 7 were in attendance: Jaycie Phelps, Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Moceanu and Shannon Miller. Absent were Dominique Dawes and Kerri Strug, who had other commitments. Sports Illustrated Senior writer Greg Bishop was on hand taking notes, and said there will be an eight-page feature on that memorable team.
Bill Sorenson, who founded American Athletic, Inc., was the recipient of the Frank Bare Award, which last year went to Abie Grossfeld. After his video was shown, with photos of his one-room school in Iowa (which had an average of nine students) to the large Olympic arenas filled with AAI equipment, Sorenson was visibly moved. "You know how to bring tears to my eyes," he said, before sharing his honor. "I accept it on behalf of the employees."
Read complete coverage of the 20th Hall of Fame induction, along with interviews of each inductee, in the June issue of International Gymnast.