A significant piece of my childhood was linked to the 1972 Olympics.  Like most of the world, I was mesmerized as we all watched former Soviet Union gymnast Olga Korbut compete in the Olympics for the first time.  She was merely a child herself.  She made every girl in the United States want to be a gymnast including me.  My dad had to build a balance beam in our backyard to placate me.

Olga Korbut and Lea HabenAbout 40 years ago Olga changed the face of women’s gymnastics forever.  I remember watching the games with my family and we all became instant Olga fans.  Who knew that I would eventually meet and interview this historic icon.   Olga took her place in history at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.  In the Munich games she won three gold in the balance beam, floor exercises and team competition as well as silver in the uneven bars.  Then four years later won the team competition gold and balance beam silver in Montreal.  She will forever be immortalized for her contribution to women’s gymnastics.

Olga is a champion in the truest sense winning four gold medals and three silver medals.  I can still remember her big smile and pigtails as she graced our television for the first time.

Olga KorbutHer signature,Korbut flip,” has changed the face of gymnastic.  She was just seventeen when she first showcased her signature move on the uneven bars which involved standing upright on the upper uneven bar mid-routine and executing a back flip, catching the upper bar from underneath it…  a move so bold that it has since been made illegal in accordance with the Olympic gymnastics Code of Points.

Olga Korbut - Korbut flipJudges only awarded her a score of 9.8 causing the audience and crowd to be angered to the point of booing the judges for several minutes.  It wasn’t hard to figure out why America and the world loved Olga… she was in her element and made it all look so effortless.  Many of today’s modern gymnastics have the Korbut influence.

Fast forward forty years later and I am able to secure an interview with my childhood idol.  With the encouragement of my friend Catherine, whom I was visiting in Santa Barbara at the time, I contacted Olga for an interview while she was attending the summer Olympics in London.

Here is my interview with Olga.

You have made gymnastics exciting and set the bar higher, how hard was that for you at such a young age?

It wasn’t hard at all.  It was natural; I was doing what I was born to do.

Lea Haben interviews Olga KorbutWhat was your training like as a young girl?

It was what I was born to do. I just trained every day… it was what you do.  I was in the gym every day.

What was it like being a normal child and becoming an Olympic celebrity overnight? 

I was never a normal child.  All the time wild, I wanted to do something all the time.  I could never sit still.

What was a normal day like for Olga Korbut?

Climbing trees, going somewhere, doing something… but never staying home.  I had to stay busy all the time.

How much do you think gymnastics has changed since you competed?

It has changed… it had to change.

Olga KorbutYou were one of the only gymnasts from the Soviet Union that actually smiled and engaged the crowd.  We all felt like we knew you.

Well I am not actually from [the] Soviet Union I am from Belarus [the] small city Grodno   

What advice would you give young girls wanting to be Olympians?

Do whatever you want, you have to have goals… you must work hard towards it every day.  Go for it no matter what.

I was so impressed that you were so brave and so strong at such a young age.

We did not have role models other than Barbie at that time.  I wasn’t strong and brave… I am telling the truth.  I was just doing what I was born to do. 

Shifting gears… I watched you on Dancing on Ice… from what I understand that was your first time on ice.

 I never skated before…If you saw me on day 1,2 or 3, you would know this.  (Laughing)  But I did it…   

Olga Korbut Olympic medalsWhat’s new on the horizon for Olga?

Another Olga… something graceful.

What is one thing about Olga Korbut no one knows.

I just live life.  Make the most out of life.  Give and you will get.


Meeting Olga Korbut was a moment I will never forget.  I held her gold medals and we laughed and talked about girl stuff.  She is funny, humble, kind and she has that great big smile she always had.  I am thrilled that she is forever Olga… that girl that won our hearts years ago.

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