Five legends were honored at the 13th annual International Gymnastics Hall of Fame induction dinner Saturday night in Oklahoma City. Margaret Sikkens Ahlquist (Sweden), Octavian Bellu (Romania), Elvira Saadi (Uzbekistan), Vitaly Scherbo (Belarus) and Dominique Dawes (U.S.) stand by their portraits. Photo, courtesy of IG Magazine
Written by Dwight Normile, Editor IG Magazine
Five legends were honored at the 13th annual International Gymnastics Hall of Fame induction dinner Saturday night in Oklahoma City. The addition of Octavian Bellu (Romania), the late Viktor Chukarin (Ukraine), Dominique Dawes (U.S.), Elvira Saadi (Uzbekistan) and Vitaly Scherbo (Belarus) brings the total Hall of Fame membership to 69 individuals from 20 countries. Sweden's Margaret Sikkens Ahlquist, president of the International Gymnastics Federation's Gymnastics for All Committee, received the International Order of Merit.
The 2009 induction class combined to win 47 Olympic medals and 91 world championship medals.
Bellu, the second coach to be inducted after compatriot Bela Karolyi (1997), piloted the Romanian women's team to five consecutive world team titles (1994-2001) and two Olympic team golds (2000-04). Never one to sing his own praises, Bellu conceded how touched he was to receive the call to the Hall of Fame. "If they decide that for me to be in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, now I am sure I did a good job," he said humbly. "Gymnastics was my life, and I tried to do my best." Bellu, who now works as an adviser for all sports in Romania, expressed the fact that coaches are rarely remembered in history, which made the evening that much more special for him. "We are not the stars," he said. "The stars are the gymnasts. We accept to be on the back stage." Bellu closed with the realization that he was now in the Hall of Fame with some of his past pupils. "So now I'm with my former gymnasts in the same family," he said. "So what is better than this?"
Chukarin, who passed away in 1984, was an example of patience and perseverance. After serving in World War II, during which he spent time as a POW in a concentration camp, Chukarin went on to win seven gold medals combined in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics, including back-to-back all-around titles.
Saadi, now a successful coach whose pupils included Tatiana Groshkova (Soviet Union) and Yvonne Tousek (Canada), delivered her acceptance speech with the same passion she exuded as a competitor. A gold medalist with the Soviet Union at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, Saadi stood out for her dramatic choreography and soulful expression. "I never had a goal to be the best," said Saadi, the first native of Uzbekistan to be inducted. "I am a person who can feel gymnastics."
Prior to each award a video montage was shown of each inductee. Saadi's included her floor routine to "Carmen," which simply mesmerized the gathered guests, many of whom traveled from around the world to attend. Saadi was visibly moved, and said she had never seen herself perform. In tears by the end of her speech, she claimed to have been a "spoiled child, actually, because my mother let me do what I want." And that was gymnastics.
Six gold medals in one Olympics has been surpassed only twice, so Scherbo is in rare company in Olympic record books. That's what he accomplished at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and he remained the man to beat for the next couple of years, as well. Still with the same boyish grin, Scherbo entertained the dinner crowd much as he did gymnastics arenas. He compared his oppressive upbringing in the former Soviet Union with the freedoms he now enjoys as a U.S. citizen and gym owner in Las Vegas. He joked and promised not to cry, because he was a man. When he competed, he was the man. He knew it, and everyone else knew it. He called himself the "bad boy" of gymnastics. "There is supposed to be someone bad, right?" quipped Scherbo, whose 23 world and 10 Olympic medals is a gymnastics record. But Scherbo showed a softer side during his speech. "It's a privilege to be inducted with so many monsters of gymnastics," he said, adding that words were "not enough to explain what's happening in my soul right now." Indeed, the Hall of Fame humbled the great Vitaly Scherbo.
1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes was the final inductee of the evening, and she began by admitting that awards really don't affect her much. By the end of her speech, it was obvious this one did. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Dawes credited much of everything she has accomplished as a gymnast and a person to her former coach and forever mentor Kelli Hill. "She has been my role model since I was 6 and is still my role model at 32," Dawes said. "I stand here today accepting this award on her behalf."
Emcee Bart Conner had opened the ceremony with a tribute to Hall of Fame founder Glenn Sundby, who passed away in March, and closed with a simple thought that seemed to characterize the evening perfectly. "Excellence is inspiring," he said.
GLENN M. SUNDBY, MEMORIAL SERVICE
Saturday, March 28, was an exceptionally beautiful sunny morning, a perfect day to express feelings of warmth and gratitude for the opportunity of having known and been associated with Glenn Marlin Sundby. More than 125 friends gathered from all parts of the United States in Oceanside, California, to say farewell to Glenn, representing age groups from 95 years to 9 months of age. The San Diego local newspaper described Glenn as a "five foot five inch giant" and icon in gymnastics, acrobatics and publishing. Many of Glenn's closest friends from publishers, manufacturers, gymnastics and acrobatics paid tribute to his countless contributions to the sport and told personal stories about the value of his friendship. At the age of 87, Glenn led a very colorful life as an acrobat and his passion for gymnastics will live on in the organizations he helped to build and nurture. Many attributed the growth of the sport to his ongoing stream of ideas. Glenn was a visionary who never lacked for ideas; some became reality. His legacy will be continued by those now carrying on his dream, including WAS, IGHOF, IG Magazine and other projects. It was quite evident that he was very much appreciated and admired; we'll all miss his presence and his wide smile. In the spirit of Glenn, let's all enjoy a "Happy Handstand."
REMEMBERING GLENN M. SUNDBY - FOUNDER
For almost 50 years, Glenn and I not only worked together, we traveled the globe attending Olympic Games, World Championships and many other events of note. In 1964 we travelled to Tokyo for the Olympic Games in Japan and in 1968 to Mexico City, 1972 to Munich, 1976 to Montreal and in 1980 to Moscow. We always enjoyed seeing local features and meeting as many people as possible. We very often roomed together, just as we did in Oceanside when I would travel there to help him with specific projects, at his request.
Most people will remember Glenn as a hardworking, dedicated individual who lived a Christian life filled with generosity and caring. He lived a colorful creative life, filled with many smiles, and had friends in all parts of the world, many of whom will miss him as we will.
Knowing him as I did, the one thing I will miss most is his smile and those of us who knew him, knew how much he enjoyed having his picture taken, or taking pictures of others. We all will remember his wide smile, which made the room light up wherever he was present. He was a people person, a visionary with great ideas and big dreams. It was my privilege to help him make some of these dreams become reality.
On February 9, 2008, the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame held its 12th formal induction ceremony in Oklahoma City, OK (USA). Inducted were 4 gymnasts and one IOM (International Order of Merit) recipient. Honorees were: Ma Yanhong (CHN), Stoyan Deltchev (BUL), Lilia Podkopayeva (UKR), Shuji Tsurumi (JPN) and Ludwig Schweizer -IOM (GER). Over the last 12 years, 64 of our sport's greatest stars and contributors, representing 19 countries, have been formally inducted into the Hall of Fame's elite group. This also marked the fifth year for the IOM award representing great achievement in noncompetitive aspects of gymnastics. Five honorees from 4 nations have been inducted in this category.
This gallery contains images taken during the formal opening celebrating the new exhibit for the Hall of Fame at the OmniPlex Center in Oklahoma City, OK, May 2007. Photos courtesy of Bart Conner and Linda Bare.
Please click on the photo to the left to view all of the photos.
2006 marked the 10th Anniversary for the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Those inducted were Vladimir Artemov (Russia), Eizo Kenmotsu (Japan), Natalia Kuchinskaya (Russia) and Shannon Miller (USA). The 2006 International Order of Merit (IOM) recipient was Mr. Uli Spieth (Germany) President of Spieth Gymnastics Company. Many past honorees returned for this occasion to honor and celebrate with the new inductees.
2005 marked the 9th Annual Hall of Fame Induction in Oklahoma City, OK. Those inducted were Svetlana Boginskaya (Belarus), Valery Liukin (Kazakhstan), Akinori Nakayama (Japan) and Erika Zuchold (Germany). The International Order of Merit (IOM) recipient was Daniel Baumat (Switzerland) President of Swiss Timing. Photos courtesy of Mr. Sam Bailie.
May 9, 2003, marked the 7th Annual Induction Ceremony in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (USA). 2003 inductees Dmitry Bilozerchev (Russia), Karin Janz (Germany), Franco Menichelli (Italy), and Kurt Thomas (USA) all traveled to Oklahoma City, where they were inducted into the IGHOF in a black-tie ceremony. The late Max Bangerter of Switzerland, a former Secretary-General of the International Gymnastics Federation, was posthumously inducted into the IGHOF in Lifetime Achievement Category. The class of 2003 owns a combined collection of 41 World and Olympic medals. The 2003 event will also honor current FIG Secretary-General Norbert Bueche as the first recipient of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame's International Order of Merit award.
June 21, 2002, marked the 6th Annual Induction Ceremony. Berthe Villancher (France) was inducted in the Lifetime Achievement Category. Five Olympic and/or World Champions were inducted in the Gymnast Category. Honorees in this category are: Polina Astakhova (Ukraine), Kieko Ikeda (Japan), Agnes Keleti (Hungary), Daniela Silivas (Romania) and Boris Shakhlin (Ukraine).
June 8, 2001, marked the 5th Annual Induction Ceremony in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (USA). Bruno Grandi (Italy) was inducted in Lifetime Achievement category, for his contribution to the sport in his home country of Italy and throughout the world as President of the FIG. In the Gymnastics category, five Olympic and/or World Champions were inducted. Those honored were Nikolai Andrianov (Russia), Lyubov Burda (Russia), William Thoresson (Sweden), Teodora Ungureanu (Romania), and Sawao Kato (Japan).
June 2, 2000, marked the Fourth Annual Induction of gymnasts in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (USA). Four Olympic and World Champions came to Oklahoma City to be honored and recognized for their achievements. Those honored were: Haruhiro Yamashita (Japan), Maxi Gnauch (Germany), Ecaterina Szabo (Romania) and Li Ning (China).
June 4, 1999 marked the third Annual Induction Ceremony in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (USA). Six honorees were inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Frank Bare (USA) inducted in Lifetime Achievement, Miroslav Cerar (Slovania), Yukio Endo (Japan), Nellie Kim (Belarus), Eugen Mack (Switzerland), and Yuri Titov (Russia) for their achievements as a gymnast.
June 26, 1998, marked the Second Annual Induction Ceremony, in Oklahoma City, OK (USA). Seven gymnasts were honored, representing inductees from Europe, Asia and North America. Those inducted were Vera Caslovska (CSR), Savino Guglielmetti (ITA), Takashi Ono (JPN) Cathy Rigby (USA), Peter Vidmar (USA), Larisa Latynina (UKR) and Ludmilla Tourischeva (UKR).
June 27, 1997, marked the inaugural Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies in Oklahoma City, OK (USA). Ten years after Founder Glenn Sundy began his dream of preserving gymnastic history, 9 indivudals were honored during this memorable evening at the Medallion Hotel. Honorees represented the 1924 Olympics – Leon Stukelj – to the 1984 Olympics – Mary Lou Retton. Inductees: Nadia Comaneci (Romania), Bart Conner (USA), Jack Gunthard (Switzerland), Bela Karolyi (Romania-US), Mary Lou Retton (USA), Olga Korbut (Belarus) and Leon Stukelj (Slovenia). The ninth inductee, Arthur Gander (Switzerland), passed away on March 30, 1981. ABC-TV sports commentator Chris Schenkel donated his time and talent as Master of Ceremony. Article by Dwight Normile, "A Night to Remember" appears in the International GYMNAST (August/ September 1997). Photos courtesy of Linda Bare. Portraits by artist, Sam Bailie, Jr.