YURI KOROLEV - Russia
If not for politics and poor luck, Yuri Korolev could have added a chapter or two to his legend, but the two-time world all-around champion never got to prove himself on the sport’s biggest stage: the Olympics. The Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and Korolev tore an Achilles’ tendon at the 1988 Soviet Olympic trials. Still, his collection of 13 medals — including nine gold — across four World Championships is remarkable.
Born Aug. 25, 1962, in Vladimir, Russia, Korolev was both a consummate
all-arounder and cool competitor. His routines were cleverly choreographed
to maximize his unique abilities, and they often were completed with
a cat-like dismount landing.
Korolev also was an innovator. He was the first to dismount from rings with a triple flyaway (1981), and he performed consecutive Tkatchevs (the first from one arm) on high bar (1986). He also was one of the first to perform handstands on pommel horse and vaults using only one arm. His name is in the Code of Points for a skill on parallel bars: back giant to immediate straddle cut to support.
Korolev’s resume is filled with several major victories besides those at the World Championships. In 1986, he won the inaugural Goodwill Games in Moscow and tied rival Li Ning for the World Cup title in Beijing, and he won three University Games (1981, ’83, ’87).
Though Korolev’s ill-timed injury in 1988 ended his Olympic dreams, he returned to competition in 1989. However, he was unable to qualify to his fifth consecutive World Championships that year.
No, Korolev never competed in the Olympics. But among fellow gymnasts and loyal fans, he was truly admired and respected like few others before or since.