Shahinyan opens Olympic account with four medals

Hrant Shahinyan hailed from Armenia - not a traditional gymnastics hotbed - and did not look like a natural gymnast, walking with a stick and sporting a neat moustache. Yet he was one of the world's great gymnasts, famed for his determination against the odds.

After excelling as a schoolboy gymnast, in 1939 Shahinyan became the Soviet Union junior champion. He then fought in the Second World War, injuring his leg. He never fully recovered, which is why he continued to walk using a stick to support him, but he received extensive treatment and showed extraordinary determination in his bid to recover his status as a gymnast.

Gradually he re-established himself in each of the events. At the age of 29, he qualified for every event at the 1952 Games and travelled to Helsinki in search of medals.

His greatest rival in that quest was Soviet team-mate Viktor Chukarin, who had also endured a traumatic time during the war. Together they helped the Soviet Union to victory in the team all-around event, before Chukarin beat Shahinyan to the individual all-around title.

Shahinyan won a rare joint-silver in the pommel horse, when he and team-mate Yevgeny Korolkov recorded identical scores, before coming fourth in the parallel bars.In the rings, though, he got the better of Chukarin – and everyone else – to take his second gold medal. He finished his only appearance at the Olympic Games with an overall tally of two golds and two silvers.Shahinyan won two world championship titles in1954 before retiring from competition. In 1958 he founded the Youth Gymnastic Olympic Sports School in Armenia, remaining associated with it for nearly forty years, until his death in 1996.


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