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23 Jul 1952
Helsinki 1952

Gymnast Horokhovska scoops magnificent seven medals

The debut of the Soviet Union brought many impressive athletes onto the Olympic stage in Helsinki, no more so than in gymnastics.

The undoubted star of the women’s gymnastics competition was Mariya Horokhovska, a true all-round talent, whose abilities had long since been recognised at home, but who came to Helsinki as a little-known quantity in international terms.

Horokhovska had already won national titles for all-around, balance beam, high bars, uneven bars and floor exercise, and had come third three times in the vault. To her team-mates, she was already a legend, but she arrived in Helsinki aged 30, and near the end of her career.

Brilliant and experienced though she was, Horokhovska was unknown to many of her rivals in Helsinki.

This, after all, was an era when the Soviet Union remained cut off from much of the rest of the world, and when there was no internet to check performances and results. The Soviet athletes had never taken part in international competition. That was all about to change.

Horokhovska entered seven events, and took medals in all of them. Her dominance was quite incredible, as she ended the Games with two golds and five silver medals.

Her two victories came in the individual and team all-around competitions, while she was also part of a Soviet clean sweep of the medals in the vault.

She only made one further appearance in international competition, as part of the successful Soviet team at the 1954 World Championships, before announcing her retirement. She did, however, return to gymnastics as a judge, rising to a high level.

Horokhovska's seven medals at a single edition of the Olympic Games remains the benchmark for female athletes, and has only been bettered by two men – Michael Phelps and Aleksandr Dityatin – who each won eight.

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