Natalia Shaposhnikova - Russia
Blessed with the limbs of a Bolshoi ballerina, Natalia Shaposhnikova actually began her sporting career as a rhythmic gymnast. But she soon transitioned to artistic gymnastics, where her unique blend of originality, acrobatics and style served her well.
Born June 24, 1961, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Shaposhnikova trained at Moscow Dynamo primarily under the venerable Vladislav Rastorotsky, who also coached Lyudmila Turischeva and Natalia Yurchenko.
Though she was not selected for the 1976 Olympic team, Shaposhnikova helped the Soviet Union win the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, France, where she also won the all-around bronze. The following year, she helped her team place second at the Worlds in Fort Worth, Texas.
Shaposhnikova finally got to compete in the Olympics in 1980, where she won golds with her team and on vault, and bronze medals on balance beam and floor exercise. After the compulsories, she was tied for first place with Romania's Nadia Comaneci, and after optionals she ranked second behind East Germany's Maxi Gnauck. In the all-around finals, however, she scored 9.90s on vault, uneven bars and balance beam, but only 9.75 on floor exercise. Her 79.025 aggregate total left her in fourth place, just 0.05 out of the medals.
Shaposhnikova retired in 1981, but her name lives on in the Code of Points for her innovative skill on uneven bars, which is still performed today in several variations. She also was credited as the first woman to perform a giant swing on the bars.
Shaposhnikova married fellow Soviet gymnast Pavel Sut in 1982, and today they have their own gym, Gymnastika, in West Patterson, N.J. One of their two children, Olga, coaches there as well.