Four golds for master gymnast Chukarin

Only nine countries won more gold medals in Helsinki than gymnast Viktor Chukarin, who was competing in his first Olympic Games at the age of 30.

With the Soviet Union taking its Olympic bow, the rest of the world had the chance to see stars such as Chukarin for the first time. His path to Helsinki, though, had been an unusual and arduous one.

Chukarin had been a brilliant young sportsman but had then been forced to put his training to one side when the Soviet Union entered the Second World War, and ended up as a prisoner-of-war.

He was held in a labour camp for four years, emerging from the war physically exhausted, but he claimed that the experience, while harrowing, had given him “an enlightened soul”.

Almost as soon as he had recovered from the conflict, he returned to his gymnastics training. By now 25, Chukarin enrolled at the Lvov Institute of Physical Culture in 1946 and graduated four years later.

By then he had already become the USSR's individual all-around champion in 1949. It was a title he was to win again in 1951, 1953 and 1955, a testament to both his natural skill as a gymnast and his longevity as an athlete.

In Helsinki, he was completely at ease despite the pressure of being his country’s star athlete in its debut appearance at the Games.

Chukarin won the all-around title and also took gold in the team event. He took four more medals on the individual apparatus – gold on the pommel horse and the vault, and silver medals on the rings and on the parallel bars. He came fifth on the horizontal bar but proved that he was fallible in the floor exercise finishing just 29th.

Chukarin returned to the Olympic stage four years later in Melbourne, shortly after his 35th birthday. At an age when most gymnasts are long since retired, he won a further three gold medals, as well as a silver and a bronze. His career total of 11 medals was, at the time, an Olympic record.