To characterize the style of Russia's Natalia Yurchenko would be more challenging than one of her mind-boggling skills. Elegant? Check. Expressive? For sure. Technically masterful? Definitely.
While those traits could describe any number of champions throughout history, Yurchenko lifted her gymnastics to a new level. Amid her performances, hypnotic for their unhurried beauty, she would calmly turn daredevil. Her trademark refinement would give way, momentarily, to reckless abandon, often leaving audiences stunned. On balance beam, for example, she was the first to execute the unthinkable Yurchenko loop, a sideways back handspring to back hip circle. On vault, she introduced the roundoff-entry onto the board, the most common vault technique today. These rare, paradoxical performances led to her biggest victory, the all-around gold at the 1983 Budapest World Championships.
Born Jan. 26, 1965, in Norilsk, Siberia, Yurchenko started gymnastics at age 9, and her love and talent for the sport eventually took her to Rostov-on-Don. There she trained under the venerable Vladislav Rastorotsky, who had groomed 1972 Olympic champion Lyudmila Turischeva and Natalia Shaposhnikova. Prior to her triumph in Budapest, Yurchenko had dominated the 1982 World Cup in Zagreb, winning three golds—all-around, vault and balance beam—and the silver on uneven bars.
Yurchenko regrets that she did not get to compete in an Olympic Games–the Soviet Union boycotted in 1984–but she won the team and vault golds at the 1984 Alternate Olympics in Olomouc. She also claimed back-to-back USSR titles (1982-83) and consecutive Universiades (1983 and '85).
Yurchenko retired in 1986 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1999. She has coached at gymnastics clubs in Pennsylvania, and now works at Lakeshore Academy in Chicago, where she lives with husband, Igor Sklyarov, and daughter, Olga.