Elena Davydova
Elena Davydova
Davydova at the 1980 Olympic Games

Full name

Elena Victorovna Davydova

Country represented

Flag of the Soviet Union USSR


August 7 1961 (1961-08-07) (age 55)
Voronezh, Saint Petersburg, Russian SFSR, USSR

Years on National Team


Current status


Elena Victorovna Davydova (Russian: Еле́на Ви́кторовна Давы́дова, born August 7, 1961 in Voronezh, 500 kilometres south of Moscow), is a former Soviet gymnast. She is the 1980 Olympic all-around champion, and owns Gemini Gymnastics, a high performance gymnastics club in Oshawa, Ontario (Canada) where she is also the head coach.

Early Career

Davydova became interested in gymnastics at age six after seeing on television the famous Soviet Olympic gold medalists Larisa Petrik and Natalia Kuchinskaya. She practiced the splits to see if she also could do them. Deciding she wanted to be a gymnast Elena went by herself to be enrolled in Voronezh's famous Spartak Gymnastics school, yet was turned away, as she was very small, and considered at the time to have the wrong physique for the sport."They would call me Kobolok after the little fairytale pancake". Rather than giving up however, she secretly watched the lessons through windows and tried to imitate in the schoolyard what she had observed.

Soon a coach at the school, Gennady Korshunov, noticed her and invited into the school. He asked his wife, Ina, also a gymnastics coach at the school, to train Davydova in her group. Yuri Shtukman, the administrator at the school, did not like this initiative by his new training staff and reprimanded the Korshunovs; however he allowed Davydova to stay in the school. It soon became apparent that she was a talented gymnast and Gennady took over her coaching himself. By 1972 Davydova was the best in her age group at the school.

In 1973 Yelena Davydova won her first International Tournament. In 1974 she became a member of the USSR junior squad. At the 1975 USSR junior Championships Davydova finished 3rd AA and won golds on vault and bars. Following her success here she became a member of the senior squad.

Senior Career

In March 1976 Davydova achieved 2nd place All-Around at the USSR championships,in her first try as a senior. She also won the gold on bars and a silver on floor. At the inaugural American Cup, Davydova astonished the gymnastics world by performing a side somersault on the beam, the first woman to do so. However, she only received 3rd place AA, due to her poor health in the match. The competition was won by Nadia Comăneci, whose gymnastics Davydova greatly admired. At the USSR Cup Davydova tied for 6th place AA — and won bronze on vault, only 0.025 behind world vault champion Olga Korbut — but only the top 5 and one gymnast in 9th place were chosen for the Soviet Olympic team. Larisa Latynina, who had won 18 Olympic medals — a record for either gender in any sport, was the senior coach for the team, and was determined to uphold the classical gymnastics tradition against the new athletic school of gymnastics as represented by Comaneci, Davydova and others.

In August, Davydova won the Antibes tournament in France by 0.6 points. In addition, she won gold on the vault, and silvers on the events beam, bars, and floor. At the Riga International Elena scored the absolute highest score of the competition (9.75 on vault) and won silver in the AA competition.She dominated event finals with almost a clean sweep winning 3 gold (beam, vault, bars) and a bronze on floor. In October, she was made a member of the USSR gymnastics display team, which visited the UK. She subsequently performed her beam routine on the Blue Peter show, an educational/entertainment show for children and teenagers and, was featured in that year's Blue Peter annual.

In December of '76, Davydova finished 3rd AA at the Chunichi Cup in Japan, and won a gold on vault and a bronze on floor at the Tokyo Cup. She was the only woman in the competition to perform a front somersault vault. She also tied 1st AA with Kische and Kraker of East Germany. Kische had finished 8th AA at the Montreal Olympics. Despite the presence of Olympians such as Comaneci, Ungureanu, Kim, and Grozdova in the Chunichi Cup, Davydova was described as the "most exciting performer and certainly the most happy bubbly personality". In 1977 Davydova again won the gold medal on bars at the USSR Cup, scoring a full 10.

In September 1977 Yelena Davydova appeared on the front cover of a new magazine with an emphasis on young gymnasts, entitled Gymnastics World. She was one of the four "Mighty Mites" featured in that issue. She was also a member of the USSR Display Team, along woth Kim, Korbut, Grosdova, Filatova and Gorbik that performed in Great Britain. The Daily Mirror wrote about Davydova, "She is the only girl in the team who has perfected the somersault onto the beam to commence her exercise. In previous years she has held most of the national titles for girls and one time held all the junior titles of the Soviet Union".

Elena suffered a serious injury when a bone detached itself from her knee. A medical specialist told her that her injury could be repaired through surgery. Her chances of ever again competing at the highest level would be negligible. In fact it could mean she would never be a gymnast again. Elena took plenty of rest and homeopathic treatments. Her resilience and spirit won through. "When I was injured my coach believed in me and didn’t give up on me. In my mind I knew I could still be on the team. I kept going."

In 1978 Gennady Korshunov and his wife were invited to coach gymnastics in Leningrad, the birthcity of Gennady. Davydova and her family moved along with the Korshunov family. She achieved a silver AA at the Spartakiade of Russian Federation Sports Schools meet, and bronze AA at the USSR Cup, being the top scorer on both beam and bars. Shortly after, Davydova won the AA title at the prestigious Chunichi Cup in Japan defeating Maxi Gnauck. Her win by 0.55 points remains the joint 3rd highest margin of victory in the competition's 34 year history. She also won gold on the bars and vault at the Tokyo Cup. As a result, she was chosen to be a member of the USSR team at the World Championships at Strasbourg in France. Merely to make a USSR Team represented a huge achievement since competition for all 6 places was so fierce. However, on the day of competition she was named as an alternate, and unable to compete. Although as alternate she still received a team gold medal it was a disappointment she was not to forget.

At the 1979 Coca-Cola International in England, Davydova won a gold on floor and would have shared gold on bars, but her coach blocked the line of vision of one of the judges, and she suffered the mandatory 0.3 deduction. She finished 2nd AA at the Simo Sappien memorial tournament in Finland. Yelena Davydova was unable to attend the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth, U.S., however, because of a case of flu. At the World University Games in Mexico she won team gold, 3rd AA, and a silver medal on floor and bronze on vault in event finals.

In 1979 Olga Korbut named Davydova, Stella Zakharova, and Natalia Shaposhnikova as the three most promising young gymnasts.

1980 Olympics

At the 1980 Moscow News Tournament Davydova amazed the experts again by performing a full-on, full off vault. This vault had only ever been done before by Olga Korbut. Davydova won a gold and 3 silver at the Moscow News Tournament. At the 1980 USSR Championships in April in Kiev Davydova won gold on vault, unveiling her unique vault full twist on, front somi off and scoring a 10, and finished 3rd AA.

The Soviet Olympic gymnastics team was to be chosen after the USSR Cup competition in Moscow June 19–22. For gymnasts of this generation it was a make-or-break contest. The judges and Soviet officials wanted to determine whose gymnastics would stand up best under the extremely high pressure conditions that would exist at the Olympics. It was run according to procedures for the Olympic Games – a full 4 day competition of compulsories, optionals, AA and event finals. Elena had finished joint 6th at the 1976 USSR Cup but that turned out to be insufficient to be placed on the squad. She knew this time only a top 3 place would give her a spot on the team. Davydova won it comfortably and scored a 10 on floor. She finished 0.5 ahead of her nearest rival, Natalia Shaposhnikova, 0.8 ahead of Zakharova, nearly a full 1.0 ahead of Filatova and a galactic 3.375 ahead of Mukhina.

Just before the Olympics, the Romanian Head Coach Béla Károlyi named Davydova as Nadia Comăneci's main rival for the Olympic title. Frank Taylor, 16 years President of the World Association of Sports Writers and author of "The Comaneci Story", went one step further and predicted Davydova would be the winner. BBC radio reported on podium training at the Olympics, discussing the established stars but added that on the basis of what they had seen they advised viewers to watch out for Davydova, and that if she performed as well as in training, then she would take gold for her daring routines.

In the team competition — whose scores counted towards both AA medals and event finals — Davydova was hampered by performing 4th for her team before Kim and Shaposhnikova — Comaneci and Gnauck performed 6th for their respective teams. The scores tend to rise with each routine — known as the staircase effect — giving the gymnasts performing last for their team a head start when it came to scoring.

Only 3 members out of 6 from any team could go through to the All-Around final and only 2 to an event final. Davydova qualified for two event finals — beam and vault — but it is believed would have qualified for bars and floor event finals also, had she competed last for her team instead of 4th on the list.

Nadia Comăneci scored a 10 on beam in compulsories, her first perfect score on beam in a major competition since 1977. Yelena Davydova performed very solidly, scoring 39.4, but finished the first day in 7th place behind 3 of her own teammates and equal with another. The leaders were Comaneci and Shaposhnikova, both scoring 39.85. At this stage of the competition in Montreal 76 Comaneci had scored 39.35.

In the optional exercises Davydova came into her own, outscoring all her teammates and meriting a 10 on floor. This was only the 2nd time a perfect score of 10 had been scored on floor at an Olympics; it was the 1st ever 10 scored in team optionals on floor and the only 10 scored on floor – in either women’s or men’s gymnastics – at the 1980 Olympics.

During this part of the competition Nadia Comăneci fell from bars attempting a Hecht 1/2, a move she had also fallen from at the 1979 World Cup. The judges gave her a 9.5, which means she would have scored a 10 without the fall. Comaneci scored 39.2.

All-Around Olympic Champion

Thursday July 24 began the All-Around final. Davydova began in 5th place. In first place was Gnauck, East Germany, then Shaposhnikova USSR, 3rd Eberle Romania, 4th Comaneci Romania. Davydova began on beam, Gnauck on bars, Comaneci on floor — a disadvantage for Davydova because there is such a premium of accuracy in the beam exercise that the gymnast prefers to be fully attuned to the rigours of that days competition before attempting it.On a later occasion Bela Karolyi said “To start with the balance beam, that is like a ditch, a hell”. Early jitters can be magnified into disasters.

There were only 4 routines left for each gymnast to compete. With 2 down and 2 to go the places were now: Gnauck 1st, Davydova 2nd, Shaposhnikova and Comaneci joint 3rd. Nadia Comăneci then scored a 10 on bars, the only gymnast to receive a perfect score that night. (It was her first perfect score on bars in a major competition since the 1976 Olympics). Gnauck held the lead until her last routine when she vaulted insecurely. She scored 9.7, on a vault with a start value of 9.9, the same as she had scored for this vault at 1979 European Championships in Denmark and 79 World Championships in United States.

Davydova had scored 9.85 on beam, 9.95 on floor (Comaneci has described Davydova's routine as "excellent"), 9.9 on vault. She now had her bars exercise left to compete. Only a great exercise would be good enough. A mistake by Davydova would result in gold for either Gnauck or Comaneci. Davydova's exercise included a Tkatchev (which no other female gymnast could do at the time), long swing 1.5 pirouette, Giant. A minute after she had left the podium her score came up — 9.95. Davydova was in the lead and only Comaneci could overtake her.

Nadia Comăneci needed a score of 9.925 to tie or more than that to win the gold outright. The last time she had scored as high as this in an AA final was at the 76 Olympics. Out of the 100 optional beam exercises performed at the 1980 Olympics only 1 scored as high as Comaneci needed. After one of her back flips Comaneci had to flail her arms for balance. She broke the connection between her aerial walkover to aerial cartwheel with a pause. Her knee bent slightly under 360 degree rotation. She landed slightly askew, taking a step back (normally a 0.1 deduction). United States Olympic book,1980,United States Olympic Committee,p. 141,commented on Comanecis beam routine “She was good but not great”.

The controversy began when no score was registered on the scoreboard. For half an hour gymnastics stole the screen from all the other sports and even the adverts on Western TV stations were delayed. Deductions were taken in tenths by the judges, i.e. 0 if the judge thought the exercise was perfect, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3 etc. The marks were 10 from the Bulgarian judge, 9.9 from the Czech judge,9.8 from both the Soviet and Polish judges. With the top and bottom marks being discarded, and the remaining 2 being added together and then divided by 2, this gave Nadia Comăneci a score of 9.85. This gave her a shared silver with Maxi Gnauck. Natalia Shaposhnikova finished 4th but would have shared a silver medal with them had she scored 0.05 extra.

Head Judge on beam, Maria Simionescu of Romania, refused to enter the score as it meant that Comaneci would not win gold. Madame Simionescu had been the Romanian women's gymnastics team coach at the 1956, 1960, 1964 Olympics. She had helped found the gymnastics school where Comaneci trained. Simionescu had been a friend of her since Comaneci's childhood and had given her ballet training. She had traveled with the Romanian team numerous times and socialized with them. She would intervene again in beam event final to restrict the score of Shaposhnikova which would give Comaneci beam gold. Nadia Comăneci repeated her score of 9.85 here. Although the Romanian Head Judge delayed the score of her fellow Romanian, holding up the AA competition for 28 minutes, it was eventually registered. The other Soviet gymnasts aided by an East German and a Swedish gymnast tossed Davydova in the air in celebration. At the 59th FIG General Assembly there was criticism of some of the judges at the 1980 Olympics.But the only Head Judge criticised – in either the men’s or women’s competition - was Simionescu. The report which included this criticism was accepted unanimously by the 48 Federation delegate present.In 1984,before the LA Olympics,the United States Gymnastics Federation proposed “When the average score of a gymnast is 9.8 or above,the Head judge should not be permitted to have discussion with any of the other judges concerning the final score".

Comaneci had outscored Davydova by 0.45 in compulsories but Davydova outscored her in all other stages of the competition where they met. Davydova outscored her by 0.4 in optionals, 0.1 in AA final, 0.3 in event finals.

Davydova appeared on the front cover of the European edition of Newsweek magazine, issue August 4, 1980. She was voted 14th best female athlete in the world that year. In the Soviet Union, a flower was named after the 2 Yelenas — Davydova and Naimushina. Under the present Olympic AA scoring system — New Life — Davydova would have won the 1980 AA title by a larger margin and would have won gold on beam. In addition to the AA gold, Davydova won a gold medal with the team and a silver medal on balance beam. While recognised as the best vaulter in event finals Davydova failed to stand her second vault and thus failed to medal. This vault is described below in the paragraph on the 1981 World Championships.In 1980 the gymnasts performed 2 different vaults and the scores were averaged instead of taking the best of the 2 scores as in Montreal Olympics ef.Davydova would have won gold with her 1st vault – scoring 9.95 – if the Montreal rules had still applied. Davydova won AA gold exactly 2 weeks before her 19th birthday, older than nearly all recent Olympic gymnastic AA champions.

While there was some criticism of Davydova's victory in the general press this was mainly by reporters who did not know how gymnastics was scored. Within the gymnastics community itself there was little doubt about the validity of Davydova's win. Nadia Comăneci herself acknowledges "That day, Yelena just performed better".

Post-Olympic sports achievements

On July 3, 1981 in Montreux, the 100th anniversary celebration of the International Gymnastics Federation took place. Davydova was invited to perform her famous floor exercise which she did twice and won a standing ovation from the people present. In August Elena won the tournament in Giresum, Turkey. She won the AA title and was top scorer on vault, bars, floor and joint top scorer on beam. She scored 10's on bars and floor. She won the AA title 0.35 ahead of Shaposhnikova, 0.8 ahead of Natalia Yurchenko and 1.0 ahead of the 1980 World Cup winner Zakharova.

At the 1981 USSR Championships — the number one national championships in the world at that time — Davydova won the All-Around title plus golds on floor and vault and bronze on bars. No other national championship attracted as much interest in the gymnastics community as the USSR Championship.

Davydova also participated in the 1981 World Championships, her last major international event. The USSR won team gold. Davydova contributed more points towards the Soviet team score than anyone else. She finished third in the all-around final after an improper landing in the balance beam event. Had she not sat down on her beam dismount she would have won gold. Davydova suffered a serious neck injury in pre-competition warm up but still finished 3rd AA and was the only gymnast from any nation to make all 4 event finals. Davydova was the total points top scoring gymnast at the 1981 World Championships. She won silver on floor and bronze on bars. She would have won gold on vault but was unable to stand the incredibly difficult vault of her own invention, full twist on front tuck off. It was the most difficult vault of the competition – in either women's or mens gymnastics. Davydova is the only one who has done a vault that a male gymnast has not. She remains the only IOC Olympic champion, since 1980, to have competed in a World Championships after she had won the Olympic AA title.

Davydova remained on the Soviet display team until 1984 but retired from competitive gymnastics in late 1982. She was competing on vault at the Rome gymnastics Grand Prix in 82 when she damaged her ankle. Thankfully her injury wasn’t as serious. She didn’t want to finish elite competition gymnastics and talked of defending her Olympic title in L.A. but it became obvious as time went on that her body could no longer stand the pounding of intense workouts.

Medal Count

Year Event TF AA VT UB BB FX
1975USSR Junior Championships3rd1st1st
1976USSR Championships 3rd2nd1st2nd
American Cup3rd
USSR Cup 63rd
Antibes Tournament1st1st2nd2nd2nd
Riga International2nd1st1st1st3rd
Chunichi Cup 3rd
Tokyo Cup1st3rd
1977USSR Cup 1st
1978Russian Spartakiade2nd
USSR Cup 3rd3rd
Chunichi Cup 1st
Tokyo Cup1st2nd
Strasbourg World Championships1st
1979Coca-Cola International1st
Simo Sappien Memorial Tournament2nd
Mexico City Summer Universiade1st3rd3rd2nd
1980Moscow Olympic Games1st1st42nd
USSR Cup1st
USSR Championships53rd1st
Moscow News2nd2nd2nd1st
1981Giresum Tournament1st
USSR Championships 1st1st3rd1st
Moscow World Championships1st3rd3rd2nd

Olympic All-Around Champions
Maria GorokhovskayaLarisa LatyninaVěra ČáslavskáLudmilla TourischevaNadia ComăneciElena DavydovaMary Lou RettonElena ShushunovaTatiana GutsuLilia PodkopayevaAndreea Răducan* Simona AmânarCarly PattersonNastia LiukinGabby DouglasSimone Biles

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