Countries That Won Multiple All-Around Titles in the Same Year

In 1979 the gymnastics calendar was altered by allowing for the World Championships and European Championships to be held in the same year. For the first time in the history of women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG), these two major All-Around titles were available to win in the same year. Below I am going to cite the seven instances in which a country managed to win multiple All-Around titles in WAG in the course of a single year between the European Championships and Group-1 level competition (World Championships and/or Olympics).

Lidia Kharisova (Top), Olga Bicherova (Middle) and Natalia Yurchenko (Bottom)

1983: Soviet Union

After the 1979 change to the scheduling format, it wasn’t until 1983 that WAG experienced the first instance of a program walking away with All-Around (AA) gold in two different competitions. It ended up being the Soviets thanks to the efforts of Olga Bicherova who won the 1983 European Championships and Natalia Yurchenko who won the World Championships last year.

Strangely enough, Albina Shishova won a bronze AA medal at the 1983 European Championships while Olga Mostepanova won an AA silver medal at the 1983 World Championships. This meant the Soviet Union produced four different gymnasts who won an AA medal that year, although none of them won more than a single medal. In a testament to how much depth the USSR program had that year, Olga Bicherova was the reigning AA gold medalist at the European Championships, World Championships and World Cup, only to be eliminated from the All-Around at the 1983 World Championships due to country limits of only three WAGs per country.

Side Note: Olga Bicherova and Natalia Yurchenko both taking major AA titles in 1983 is particularly special considering they would go on to be lifelong friends. Bicherova attended Yurchenko’s wedding while Yurchenko once said she would rather tie with Bicherova for 1st place rather than win all by herself. I spoke of this special relationship on my Patreon during a profile of Natalia Yurchenko which can be found here.

Oksana Omelianchik (L) and Elena Shushunova (R)

1985: Soviet Union

Once again it was the Soviets who pulled off this feat by taking both the European Championships and World Championships AA titles in 1985. Although this instance is rather unique in that the two AA titles were simultaneously won by both a lone gymnast, and also two different gymnasts. The culprit for this unusual wording is the impact of a tie.

Elena Shushunova won AA gold at both the European Championships and World Championships that year. But, at the 1985 World Championships Shushunova won in a tie and shared the medal with her teammate Oksana Omelianchik. Of the seven instances where a single country won multiple AA titles between the European Championships and Group-1 competition, three were won by two different gymnasts, three were won by a single gymnast delivering a two AA gold medals for her country, and the last is 1985 where a tie meant the gold medals went to both the same and two different gymnast(s).

Daniela Silivas and Aurelia Dobre

1987: Romania

For the third time in a row where multiple AA titles were up for grabs, a single country grabbed both. This time it was the Romanians. It started in Moscow where Daniela Silivas beat the Soviets on Russian soil to take the AA title at the European Championships. It was Romania’s first AA title since Nadia Comaneci in the 1970s and gave the Soviets one of their most embarrassing defeats in program history.

Sadly though, it was the only AA title Silivas won in her legendary career which includes an Olympic medal on every event, as well as gold medals on bars, beam, and floor at both the World Championships and Olympic Games. Romania’s other AA gold medal that year came from Aurelia Dobre who put up an incredible stat line at the 1987 World Championships where she won five gold medals plus a 4th place finish on her last event.

Svetlana Boginskaya (Photo scanned by Olga Kaplieva-Karpushina)

1989: Soviet Union

In 1989 Svetlana Boginskaya won the All-Around at both the European Championships and World Championships. This made her the first WAG to ever win both the European Championships AA and a Group-1 AA in the same year. To this day Boginskaya is the only gymnast to win the AA at both the World Championships and European Championships in the same year.

Tatiana Gutsu

1992: Soviet Union (Unified Team)

The Soviet Union disappeared from the map at the end of 1991, but its sports teams remained largely intact for the 1992 season. You can call the 1992 team the ex-Soviets who competed under the Olympic flag, but I prefer to simply refer to it as the same as any other Soviet team because they were fundamentally the same collection of gymnasts from the year prior. It is only a technicality which makes them different.

In 1992 the Soviets (Unified Team) was led by Tatiana Gutsu who won both the European and Olympic AA titles that year. Gutsu would follow Boginskaya by being the second gymnast to win two major titles in a single year. But Tatiana would be the first to do it under the combination of winning at the European Championships and Olympic level. Previously it had only been done in the same year at the World Championships and European Championships.

Lilia Podkopayeva (Center). From L to R the other gymnasts are Simona Amanar, Lavinia Milosovici and Gina Gogean

1996: Ukraine

Ukraine would be the only country from outside any of the established powers to accomplish this feat. Even more symbolically, Ukraine is the only non-medal winning country to win two major AA titles in the same year. Of the seven examples of a country bringing home two AA gold medals in a single year, on six of those occasions they won the Team gold medal at the Group-1 level along with it. Ukraine-1996 is the only such occasion where they not only failed to win gold in Team Finals, but failed to win any medal at all in the team competition (World Championships or Olympics).

But this particular result is symbolic for another reason, at the 1996 European Championships Lilia Podkopayeva took the European AA title after an intense battle with none other than Svetlana Boginskaya. In the end, Lilia Podkopayeva had to surpass another gymnast on this list in order to make the list herself. The 1996 European All-Around Finals would go down as one of the greatest moments in the history of the European Championships.

Svetlana Boginskaya during the medal ceremony of her first European All-Around title. Other gymnasts in the photo include Olga Strazheva, Daniela Silivas, and Olesia Dudnik.

On one side there was Svetlana Boginskaya going for the highly coveted, 3-peat by winning the European AA three times in her career. This record famously eluded Larissa Latynina, Vera Caslavska, and Ludmilla Turischeva in their respective careers. It wasn’t until Nadia Comaneci came along that a WAG finally achieved it, and later only the highly decorated Svetlana Khorkina joined Nadia in this accomplishment. For Svetlana Boginskaya, it was a narrow defeat at the hands of Podkopayeva in 1996 that denied her the opportunity to join only Nadia in this record, and later by Khorkina.

For Lilia Podkopayeva, she was going for a record of her own. Lilia’s victory at the 1996 European Championships helped make her the sixth example on this list of a country winning a European AA title and a Group-1 AA title in the same year. It also was a crucial victory on the way to Lilia later holding the European, World Championships, and Olympic AA titles all at the same time. The last person to do this was Turischeva in the early 1970s. And since Podkopayeva this accomplishment has yet to be repeated in modern gymnastics.

Viktoria Listunova and Angelina Melnikova

2021: Russia

From 1983 to 1996 the trend of multiple AA titles going to the same country was so common that on all but one occasion when this scenario was possible due to the competition schedule aligning, the sport witnessed the occurrence of this trend. The only time it didn’t occur was 1994 when Shannon Miller of the United States took top honors at the World Championships and denied European athletes the ability to replicate this accomplishment.

The sudden disappearance of this trend can be traced to a number of factors. First, the terrible luck of Svetlana Khorkina who won the European AA in even numbered years (1998, 2000, and 2002), only to win a Group-1 AA title all in odd numbered years (1997, 2001, and 2003). Secondly, starting in 1990 the European AA was switched from being held in odd numbered years to being held in even numbered years. At the same time the World Championships did not hold an AA Finals in both 1998 and 2002.

Viktoria Listunova and Angelina Melnikova

This meant that in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, and 2002 the competition schedule did not align for this trend to even be possible. Lastly, by the time the competition schedule once again aligned to make this trend possible in most years, Europe had lost its status as the dominant region of women’s gymnastics. From 2004 and onward the Group-1 AA gold medals would go to the Americans on most occasions. Thus denying the victor of the European Championships the ability to win the European AA and following her victory with additional AA gold at the World Championships or Olympics.

But in 2021 and after a 25 year absence, this trend once again returned. It started with Viktoria Listunova winning the All-Around at the 2021 European Championships while her teammate Angelina Melnikova won the All-Around at the World Championships later in the year. Interestingly enough, in 2021 the Russian program featured AA wins from its youngest breakout star (Listunova) and its oldest returning Olympian (Melnikova). Russia also won the gold medal in the team competition at the 2021 Olympics that year as well.

From L to R: Anastasia Ilyankova, Angelina Melnikova, Viktoria Listunova, Vladislava Urazova, and Elena Gerasimova

It continues the interesting correlation of programs that win both the European AA and a Group-1 AA title, almost always end up winning the Team title as well. Suggesting that if a program is strong enough to produce multiple AA victories in a single year, it is also strong enough to dominate the team competition. But there is one big elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.

Russia’s success in 2021 came in a unique year where due to Covid-19 impacting the competition scheduling alignment, the AA titles at the World Championships, Olympics, and European Championships were all available to win in the same year. In all of WAG history, 2021 was the only time all three AA Finals occurred in the same year. Russia-2021 is the only example on this list where a single country technically won multiple AA titles, but suffered a defeat in the AA en route to doing it (Sunisa Lee winning the 2021 Olympics).

Angelina Melnikova

Melnikova also won her AA title at the World Championships where numerous gymnasts who were AA medal contenders at the Olympics just a few months prior either did not attend the 2021 World Championships, or opted to forgo the All-Around in favor of Event Finals. Russia was the only country with gymnasts who placed inside the top-10 of the All-Around at both the World Championships and Olympics in 2021.

It is up for readers to decide whether these circumstances constitute an asterisk being placed on this particular example. I’m sure the reaction to Russia’s inclusion will be mixed. There are also other events such as the Pan American Games, Asian Games, and World Cup that could also be included to find additional examples of a country taking multiple AA titles in a single year. But I stuck with the Olympics, World Championships, and European Championships because they are the three longest running and most commonly held events in WAG history.

Natalia Yurchenko

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