Tatiana Gutsu : biography
Tatiana Konstantinivna Gutsu ( ; born September 5, 1976 in Odessa) is a Ukrainian (and former Soviet) gymnast, winner of the 1992 Olympic all-around title. Renowned as a trickster, the routines she performed were some of the most difficult ever in the sport. Fifteen years after her debut, few Olympic gymnasts perform beam and floor routines as difficult as hers.
Born into a Ukrainian family of Moldovan descent, Gutsu first started in gymnastics at age 6. She became a member of the national team of the Soviet Union in 1988. Her first major international competition was the 1991 World Championships in Indianapolis, where she won the team title with the Soviet Union and finished fifth in the individual all-around, while winning silver medals in two individual apparatus finals – the bars and beam. Here, she was noticed for her difficulty, as one of the first gymnasts in the world to perform a double twisting Yurchenko vault. She also debuted a double layout somersault on floor with split leg in the first salto. Very few others have been able to compete this move. Perhaps most impressively, she ended her floor routine in the team competition with a double layout somersault.
In early 1992, Gutsu won the all-around, vault, and balance beam at the European Championships. She was the most successful gymnast of the championship and clearly established herself as one of the favorites for the Olympic all-around title. However, the 15-year-old Gutsu almost missed the final of that event. In the Olympic preliminaries, Gutsu fell from the balance beam, qualifying 9th all-around. She had been on course to win the optional portion of the team competition, and was also one of the favourites for the beam gold medal, but the fall meant she did not qualify.
Although 36 gymnasts qualified for the all-around, only 3 competitors from each country were allowed in the final, and because of Gutsu’s fall, three other competitors from the Unified Team had already placed higher. However, the team coaches felt that Gutsu had a better chance of bringing home all-around gold than her teammates Svetlana Boguinskaya and Rozalia Galiyeva. They considered scratching Boginskaya, but felt that she was too famous and there would be a scandal. As a result, they forced Gutsu’s younger teammate Galiyeva to forfeit her place in the final so that Gutsu could compete. Galiyeva was forced to claim a severe knee injury, and this was ‘verified’ by the team physician.
In one of the deepest fields ever for the all-around, Gutsu was in a close race for the gold medal. None of the problems from qualifying were repeated, as she went through her difficult sets without major errors. Most of the other contenders also avoided mistakes, but with one apparatus to go, Gutsu was tied for first place. Her final performance on vault (a full-twisting layout Yurchenko) was just enough to hold off the challenge of American Shannon Miller- Gutsu won the title by .012. In a very successful Olympic campaign, she also took home additional medals in the team competition (gold), uneven bars (silver) and floor exercise (bronze).
What set Gutsu apart from Shannon Miller was her difficulty – she was competing during the height of the ‘pixie’ era when the favoured type of gymnast was a small athlete capable of extreme difficulty, and Gutsu exemplified this. In Barcelona, Gutsu used the same vault as most other leading gymnasts (except Tatiana Lysenko) but her difficulty on the other three exercises was high. Beam was especially notable – she showed probably the most difficult dismount sequence of all time, three back handsprings into a tucked full-in. She also used a standing tucked full back somersault. On floor, Gutsu’s opening pass was a split leg double layout, closing with a piked full-in. On bars, she dismounted with a double layout. Miller, in contrast, showed comparatively less difficulty, on the floor exercise in particular (whip to tucked full-in for her mount, a whip to double pike for her middle pass, and a tucked full-in for her dismount.), but was extremely impressive with her flip flop to three layouts sequence on beam, superior form, and a stuck full-in dismount.
Galiyeva was always angry and bitter about having given up her place to Gutsu, feeling that she had had no option but to agree. The two split the prize money between them, but they stopped speaking after the Olympics. The substitution was against the rules (as Galiyeva’s injury was not genuine), but such switches were and are common in gymnastics, usually when a gymnast considered to be the best on the team makes a mistake in qualifications and thus finishes behind another, apparently weaker teammate.
Other notable examples include the replacement of Alexandra Marinescu for Simona Amânar in the 1996 Olympics, and the Soviet coaches removal of Olga Mostepanova for Elena Shushunova in the 1985 world championships. On both occasions, the gymnast substituted in took a medal. Usually, such behaviour does result in the best gymnast competing, but there is also the argument that only those who have qualified legitimately have the right to advance. Coaches now have the right to make such substitutions anyway.
After retiring from competitive gymnastics, Gutsu moved to the United States, where she now is a gymnastics coach and has U.S. citizenship. Gutsu tried for a comeback to compete at the 2003 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships as a three-event specialist (vault, beam and floor) but was unsuccessful.