Olga Korbut (born May 16, 1955 in Hrodna), also known as the Sparrow from Minsk, is a Soviet Belarusian gymnast who won four gold medals and two silver medals at the Summer Olympics, where she competed in 1972 and 1976.
Korbut, at age 11, entered a Belarusian sports school headed by coach Renald Knysh. Korbut's first trainer was Elena Volchetskaya (a 1964 Olympian); she was moved to Knysh's group a year later. With him, she learned a difficult backward somersault on the balance beam.
She ended fifth at her first competition in the 1969 USSR championships. The next year, she won a gold medal in the vault.
Due to illness and injury she was unable to compete in many of the tournaments prior to the 1972 Olympics.
At the Olympics, her acrobatics diminutive prettiness captivated the Munich audiences, and there she became the first person ever to do a backward somersault on the balance beam. She also was the first to do standing backward somersalt on bars, and a back somersalt to swingdown (Korbut flick) on beam. Her bars move is no longer seen in high level gymnastics but the tuck back and Korbut flick are still very popular (2003 world beam champion Fan Ye performed both in her routine).
During the Olympics, Korbut was one of the favourites for the all-around after her dynamic performance in the team competition. But memorably, she fell from bars and the title went to her teammate Lyudmila Turishcheva. However Olga did get three gold medals, for the balance beam, floor exercise and team, and one silver medal in the uneven parallel bars.
In 1973 she won the Russian and World Student (i.e., University) Games and a silver medal in the all-around at the European Championships.
The Soviet coaches and officials had designated Olga as the woman who could beat Romanian prodigy Nadia Comaneci in the 1976 Olympic Games at Montreal. But Olga was injured and no longer in love with the sport, and her performances were under-par. She was overshadowed not only by Comaneci but by her own teammate Nellie Kim. But she did collect a team gold medal and an individual silver medal for the balance beam.
She graduated from the Grodno Pedagogical Institute in 1977 and retired from Olympic competition thereafter. She married Leonid Bortkevich, who was a member of a popular Belarusan folk band Pesniary. The couple had a son, Richard, in 1979.
Korbut was of course a highly decorated athlete, with four Olympic golds to her credit. But it is not her results for which she is most remembered. The media whirl that surrounded her after her Olympic debut in 1972 caused a surge of young girls to join their local gymnastic clubs. A sport which had previously seldom been noticed now made headlines. She also contributed to a change in the whole direction of the sport. Prior to 1972, the athletes were rather older and there was a greater focus on elegance than on acrobatics. In the decade after Korbut first came to the world's attention, this completely changed.
As of 2004 she is residing in the United States and recently had some problems with the authorities (she was caught shoplifting, and her son was caught with false dollar bank notes) . Divorced from Bortkevich in the late 1990's, Korbut is now married to Alex Voinich.