Poverty Forces Former Soviet Olympic Top Gymnast Olga Korbut To Auction Her Medals


To the more experienced readers, this name might ring a bell. Olga Korbut, the Soviet gymnast who won over the world at the 1972 Munich Olympics, has just sold her medals and other trophies at a US auction. Why? Well, there is a lot of headlines that possibly hide the truth. The most interesting of them is that of the Russia’s Gazeta.ru which writes – “Medals saved Korbut from hunger,” implying that she has had financial difficulties.

Well, if she did indeed have the problems, she doesn’t anymore because the sale of seven lots (including those two gold medals and a silver one from the Munich Games) brought her incredible $183,300 (£147,000). The most expensive item that was sold on that auction was her team gold which alone brought in $66,000 to that pile.

To those of you that are not familiar with her, Olga was born 16th May 1955 in Belarus. From 1978 to 2000 she was married to Leonid Bortkevich, a famous Soviet-era folk singer and in 1991 she moved with her husband to the US right after the USSR’s collapse, where she now, at almost age of 62, still lives in Arizona, and has a son Richard.

Way back in 1972, the period that was well known for the height of the Cold War crisis, Olga managed to do something that very few could back then. She could take the breath out of everybody thanks to her gymnastic skills. Those skills landed her millions of admirers in the West when she was just 17.

At only 1.5 m tall (4 ft 11) Olga got a really cool and catchy nickname – the Sparrow from Minsk, and that in combination with her captivating smile and quirky charm gave her the throne of an Olympic legend. As previously mentioned, she managed to win three gold medals (team, balance beam and floor exercise) and silver at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and in 1976 she won another gold and silver at the Montreal Games, which was incredible back then. Olga was also very popular for one more thing, and that is The Korbut Flip, which is a spectacular trick that she performed on the asymmetric bars, that is now banned from the Olympics because it is considered too dangerous.

According to the auction organizers – Heritage Auctions “there is hardly a gymnast alive who doesn’t credit this tiny force of nature for the explosion of the sport’s popularity on a global level.” We managed to find out that the sale items on the auction also included her performance leotards, her 1972 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, various Soviet medals and a sports magazine cover signed by her.