While looking back at old photos from the 2019 World Championships, I came upon a photo of Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, and Angelina Melnikova. It suddenly dawned on me that all three gymnasts in the photo are now All-Around (AA) Champion making it a rare encounter of three legends who have obtained a gold medal in the most prestigious event in women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG).
The photo wasn’t just a chance encounter, but a direct byproduct of Simone, Sunisa, and Angelina taking a traditional victory pose together after collectively winning all three medals on floor exercise at the 2019 World Championships. At the time only Biles was an All-Around Champion. But at the 2021 Olympics Sunisa Lee would win an AA title, and Angelina Melnikova would do the same later in the year at the 2021 World Championships.
In WAG history it is surprisingly rare at the Group-1 level (World Championships and Olympics) to have three AA Champions share a podium. Prior to 2019 the only other time this exact scenario occurred was at the 1976 Olympics. Although there have been some “non exact” scenarios in other years.
1999 World Championships
One of the non-exact scenarios occurred at the 1999 World Championships when Andreea Raducan (Gold), Simona Amanar (Silver), and Svetlana Khorkina (Bronze) shared a podium on floor. Svetlana is an undisputed AA Champion having won titles in 1997, 2001, and 2003. But Raducan won an AA title at the 2000 Olympics, only for it to be vacated and given to Simona Amanar.
Even though her medal was stripped, gymnastics fans overwhelmingly support Andreea Raducan and believe her vacated medal to be a historic injustice. To this day Raducan is frequently treated as the true AA Champion of the 2000 Olympics within the gymnastics fanbase even though she doesn’t officially have this title.
Whether you are a gymnastics fan who believes Raducan should be considered the real 2000 AA Champion, or believe Amanar is the real 2000 AA Champion, that still leaves only two AA gold medalists on this 1999 podium. But I believe the best approach to the 2000 Olympic AA controversy is treating it as a tie between Raducan and Amanar. Thus both gymnasts should be considered AA gold medalists along with Khorkina. Making this an example of a podium with three AA Champions on it. Although treating this as a comparable example has one massive asterisk on it.
Technically speaking, all three gymnasts were crowned AA Champions, the disclaimer is that only two were actually able to keep their titles.
1987 World Championships
Outside of 1976 and 2019, the closest example of a podium having three AA Champions on it was beam finals at the 1987 World Championships. Aurelia Dobre took gold, Elena Shushunova took silver, and Svetlana Boginskaya won bronze. Shushunova won an AA title in a tie back in 1985 at the World Championships that year, but she would go on to win an outright AA title at the 1988 Olympics.
Meanwhile Dobre would win an AA title in 1987 while Boginskaya would win an AA title of her own in 1989. Thus making these three gymnasts responsible for three consecutive AA titles from 1987-1989. However, the reason why I label this a “non exact” scenario is because there was a fourth gymnast on the podium. Ecaterina Szabo tied Boginskaya for bronze.
So while beam finals at the 1987 World Championships had three AA Champions on the podium, you can’t technically say every medalist on this podium was an AA champion.
You have to go all the way back to the 1976 Olympics to find an exact comparison to 2019 where a podium featured three gymnasts and all three were AA Champions. In 1976 the culprits were Ludmilla Turischeva, Nadia Comaneci, and Nellie Kim. Turischeva won her AA titles in 1970, 1972, and 1974. Nadia won her AA title at the 1976 Olympics and years later Nellie Kim would get her AA title at the 1979 World Championships.
So any podium featuring Nadia, Nellie, and Ludmilla would result in a podium of AA Champions. At the 1976 Olympics the trio shared a podium on two separate occasions. The first occurred in the All-Around itself when Nadia took gold, Nellie took silver, and Turischeva took bronze. It then occurred again during floor finals when Nellie Kim finished first, Turischeva second, and Comaneci in third place.
In the roughly eighty years that high level international events were being held in women’s gymnastics, the 1976 Olympics remained the only competition to ever produce a podium of AA Champions. That was until the past two seasons when the trend repeated itself for the first time in four decades thanks to Sunisa Lee, Simone Biles, and Angelina Melnikova.
One thought on “2019 Floor: The Podium of All-Around Champions”
Great history … a wonderful story !