In the modern history of women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) just about every Olympic gymnast has competed at the World Championships. In the rare instance that a gymnast makes an Olympic team without prior World Championships experience, she will usually attend such a competition in the next Olympic quad. For something that is rare to occur even once, it seems absurd for it to occur twice.
For a gymnast to compete at two Olympics in modern WAG without attending a World Championships, it would require a three year absence which is a completely illogical career trajectory for a gymnast to have. If she is good enough to make two Olympic teams, surely she is good enough to make a lone World Championships. If she wants to work towards a second Olympics, she will likely work towards competing at the major competitions held in between the Olympics as well.
That was until Laurie Hernandez started her comeback and generated a discussion on the Gymternet about this possibility. For a career trajectory that sounds so absurd, could Laurie be the first 2x Olympian who never competed at the World Championships? Surprisingly, the answer is no.
You will be surprised to hear that this has actually happened in the past. But you will be really surprised to hear that this was once a routine occurrence. I’d go as far as to label it a phenomena. Back in the 1950s there were a multitude of scenarios that made this trend somewhat common.
The first scenario involves the American program and the first example of it happening is Consetta Caruccio. She is a gymnast that not many know about, but she was America’s first WAG legend. Caruccio won the 1933 All-Around (AA) at the very first National Championships in American WAG history. But Caruccio was done in by geography. Every World Championships up to that point in time had been held in Europe. The United States did not attend due to both the travel commitments and social isolation existing between the European gymnastics programs and the rest of the world.
Caruccio missed every World Championships of the 1930s, but the Olympics were more prestigious and important enough for an American WAG team to be sent to Europe. The 1936 Olympics did not have individual events, but they did keep individual scores.
Consetta Caruccio finished fourth in the AA. But more significantly she was the highest ranking non-German. This was the infamous Nazi Olympics and the WAG competition had been particularly impacted by allegations of biased judging. The root of the issue was politics due to the presence of the Czechoslovakians and the Germans. Up to this point in WAG history the Czechoslovakians had dominated the World Championships, but did so with the Germans not in attendance. The Germans had beaten the Czechoslovakians at the Olympics, but had done so with homefield advantage and allegations of biased judging. Both countries have a valid claim as to which program was truly the best.
And then there was Consetta Caruccio who managed to record a fourth place finish to stake a claim of her own. She had finished ahead of the Czechoslovakian gymnasts, and had only lost to German gymnasts who had homefield advantage. Half a century before Mary Lou Retton, there was an American gymnast with a valid claim that perhaps she was best gymnast in the world.
Consetta Caruccio would miss the next two Olympics because of World War II. When gymnastics resumed competition the very first high profile event would not be a World Championships, but the 1948 Olympics. Caruccio again made the Olympic team, but by this time the aging veteran had fallen to 31st in the individual standings. It would be the last Olympics without an AA in women’s gymnastics. Caruccio never competed in another major gymnastics competition. Ineligible for an individual medal, Caruccio’s team bronze at the 1948 Olympics is the only medal of her entire career.
Caruccio went to the Olympics twice and never attended the World Championships at any point in her career. In fact, no American team would compete at the World Championships until 1962. In an era where gymnasts had more longevity, four of Caruccio’s teammates on the 1948 team would return to the Olympics in 1952. They were Dorothy Dalton, Marian Barone, Meta Elste, and Clara Schroth. They all became 2x Olympians who never participated in a World Championships.
The “Americans before 1962” trend is not the only scenario that makes this phenomenon so common. Another scenario has to do with the World Championships schedule. Prior to 1978 the World Championships were held only once every four years. If a gymnast were to miss that lone World Championships being held in that Olympic quad, she would go through two Olympics without having ever competed in a World Championships.
This actually happened to Hungarian gymnast Margit Korondi who won eight Olympic medals at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. But she missed the 1954 World Championships. At 20 years old, Korondi was quite young for this era of the sport when she made her debut at the 1952 Olympics. The 1950 World Championships were out of reach because of her age, but also because that competition had abysmal participation rates due to the lingering effects of World War II. Hungary was one of many nations that did not attend the 1950 World Championships. Margit never had the option to compete prior to the 1952 Olympics and after the 1956 Olympics Korondi face a new predicament.
In 1956 the Hungarian people overthrew the Soviet-installed government and pivoted towards free elections and withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact. The Soviets responded by invading the country just three weeks before the start of the 1956 Olympics. The Hungarian Olympic team attended the 1956 Olympics, but most opted to defect rather than return home. Korondi was among those who choose to defect. She resettled in the United States, but her days as a gymnast were over.
It isn’t all that difficult for the Korondi scenario to repeat itself with other gymnasts. All it takes is for a gymnast to have a five year career which isn’t uncommon, and to then suffer an injury and miss a single World Championships. Which again, isn’t uncommon in gymnastics. There are likely more gymnasts who competed before 1978 that fell into a similar scenario.
The final scenario has to do with the previously mentioned 1950 World Championships. In the aftermath of World War II, European nations were dealing with more pressing concerns. The 1950 World Championships struggled to attract a competitive WAG field without the Olympic banner propping it up. Nearly every WAG power of the era missed the 1950 World Championships resulting in a wave of gymnasts who competed in two consecutive Olympics, but not the World Championships. Most of these gymnasts had no prior experience at the World Championships because the 1942 and 1946 competitions had been canceled due to World War II.
For the ones who retired before the 1954 World Championships, they did so while having never attended a World Championships at any point in their career. One example of this is Hungarian gymnast Maria Kovl who finished 4th in the AA at the 1948 Olympics where individual medals weren’t awarded. Since Hungary did not participate at the 1950 World Championships, Kovl made her return to high level competition at the 1952 Olympics. She then retired as a 2x Olympian who had never competed at the World Championships. Kovl would attend the 1954 World Championships as the coach of the Hungarian team.
These are some of the examples of gymnasts who have the distinction of being a 2x Olympian but never appeared at the World Championships. It is three separate scenarios that make such a trend easily possible resulting in a surprisingly high number gymnasts who have done it. The World Championships saw improved participation rates as travel became less of a burden for overseas nations. Fueling the improvement in participation rates was countries putting more emphasis on the World Championships and examples of countries skipping them became less common.
But the greatest impact of all was the World Championships being held on a more frequent basis which made this trend cease to exist. But that didn’t stop Laurie Hernandez from reviving a discussion on the concept fifty years later.