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Description1972 Munich Olympics USSR Women's Gymnastics Team Gold Medal from The Olga Korbut Collection. Korbut made history during the Team competition at the Munich Games when she became the first gymnast in history to perform a backflip on the balance beam, which remarkably was only enough to earn her a second-place ranking for that event. But consistency was the pathway to victory, and both Korbut and her teammate Ludmilla Tourischeva finished no lower than fourth in the compulsory or optional portions of any of the four disciplines, blazing the path to the top step of the Olympic podium ahead of East Germany and Hungary. This is the medal Korbut was presented there.
Designed by Gerhard Marcks and produced at the Bavarian Mint, the offered medal is crafted from 175 grams of gilt silver, and measures 66 millimeters in diameter. Seated victory holds a laurel wreath and palm branch before the Colosseum on obverse, giving way to mythological Roman twins Castor and Pollux on verso. "Turnen Boden Frauen, Korbut Olga" is engraved on upper edge. Original chain is present. Only 364 Gold Medals were created for presentation at Munich. Small dent at edge in five o'clock position, but otherwise fine condition in original presentation case. Letter of provenance from Olga Korbut.
The Olga Korbut Collection.
At just four feet eleven inches in height, and tipping the scales at just over eighty pounds, one might have expected Olga Korbut to be simply swept away in the maelstrom of politics and expectations that swirled around the 1972 Munich Games. The Cold War had never fully thawed at any international summit of the world's greatest athletes, and this 1972 edition was devastated by the horrors of the terrorist attack upon the Israeli team at the Olympic Village. But it was at these Games, under those most challenging conditions, that Korbut supplied a gymnastics performance of pure mastery and joy, beginning a global love affair with "The Sparrow from Minsk," who single-handedly upended the stereotype of the Soviet athlete as a stone-faced automaton.
The world welcomed her back to the sport's brightest spotlight four years later in Montreal, where she was identified as the best hope to throw a leash around the rising star of Romanian wunderkind Nadia Comaneci, but injury limited the full breadth of Korbut's brilliance, restricting her medal haul to a team Gold and personal Silver.
This auction will present the tangible evidence of Korbut's elite achievement-three Gold and two Silver medals earned at the Olympic Games of Munich and Montreal--as well as dozens of other relics of her age of dominance (her fourth Gold Medal--1972 Balance Beam--was stolen from a Moscow museum). But her greatest legacy cannot be measured by the inanimate. After the 1972 Games, Korbut was invited to visit Richard Nixon at the White House, and she later reported that, "He told me that my performance in Munich did more for reducing the political tension during the Cold War between our two countries than the embassies were able to do in five years."
Today, at age sixty-one, Korbut parts with the mementos of her youthful glory because the thing she values most is always with her. There is hardly a gymnast alive who doesn't credit this tiny force of nature for the explosion of the sport's popularity on a global level, for establishing gymnastics as the most anticipated competition of the Summer Games. Heritage Auctions is privileged and proud for the opportunity in bringing this historic collection to the collecting world, each lot joined by a signed letter of provenance from Ms. Korbut herself.
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