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Olga Korbut puts 5 Olympic medals up for auction

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Olga Korbut walks around the man-made lake in anonymity, despite the bright red warmup jacket with “Olga” in sparkly letters on her left shoulder.

Korbut likes it here, this little suburban slice of nature, a place where she can get her body moving, listen to the birds, stroll alongside the dog walkers.

Korbut stops at a set of bars to stretch, torqueing her hip at an impossible-for-mortals angle that sends her right foot above her head. She moves to the other side of the bars, puts her hands on the ground and sends her feet into the air, propping them up against a sign. She holds the handstand for about 30 seconds and flips back over, waving her hands upward like a gymnast completing a routine.

Even at 61, Korbut is still strong and supple, appearing as if she could hop onto the uneven bars and complete the Korbut Flip, just as she did more than 40 years ago as a teenager who changed gymnastics forever.

So, too, is her mind, content with her place in history and her quiet life in Arizona.

“I love being here, with the nature, the nice weather,” Korbut said, the accent from her native Belarus still noticeable. “It’s paradise.”

Korbut sprang onto the Olympic scene like a bottle rocket, a 4-foot-11, pigtailed waif who turned gymnastics on its head.

Nicknamed “The Sparrow from Minsk,” she did things no one had seen before, acrobatics that pushed the sport forward from balletic motions of the past. And she did it with an un-Soviet flair, playing up to crowd to the point it loved her even when she failed.

Korbut won three gold medals and a silver as a 17-year-old at the 1972 Munich Games, then added another gold and silver at Montreal in 1976.

She instantly became a worldwide star. People knew her around the world and treated her like royalty wherever she went, a transition that was sometimes difficult for a teenager from Grodno, near the borders with Poland and Lithuania.

“I came unknown to the Olympic Games and overnight people make me famous,” Korbut said. “I wasn’t prepared for that, but it was funny when I came to the store with my money, they would give it to me free.”

Korbut traveled the world doing exhibitions and became an ambassador of sorts for her sport, once meeting President Richard Nixon. She spearheaded efforts to help victims of the 1986 Chernobyl accident and moved to the United States in 1991, becoming a gymnastics teacher and motivational speaker while continuing to raise money for victims of the nuclear accident.

Korbut struggled while coaching young gymnasts at first. Many of them lacked the motivation she had, but then again, few people have that kind of inner drive to be the best in the world.

Through the years, Korbut adjusted her coaching style and shifted to private classes, where the gymnasts tended to be more motivated.

“In the first, I saw that maybe they didn’t want to do it, maybe their parents pushed them in it,” she said. “But I do my classes very differently, to not push them, but invite them into this world. I would show them my medals and tell them that it’s not very hard if you love to do that. I show them and teach them to be in love with gymnastics.”

Korbut moved to Arizona after participating in a clinic here. She has spent her time in the desert giving private lessons and touring the world to promote gymnastics.

With her on every trip: her Olympic medals.

Korbut brings the medals with her everywhere, pulling them out at each stop so her fans can not only see but touch them.

“Millions of people around the world touched those medals through the years,” said Jay Schanfeldt, Korbut’s fiance.

Now her fans will have an opportunity to own those medals.

From Feb. 25-26, five of Korbut’s Olympic medals — her floor exercise gold from Munich among them — and some of her Olympic memorabilia will be available at Heritage Auctions’ Sports Platinum Auction.

Korbut and Schanfeldt say the selling of her memorabilia is not a desperate money grab, though they acknowledge the money certainly will be nice. They see it as more of a chance to make a deeper connection with her fans, allowing them to be part of a history they helped create.

“This is Olympic history, and I would like to share with the whole world,” Korbut said. “They helped to make it history and make it live forever. This is how I wanted to share with the people.”

Once the auction is over, Korbut will go back to her peaceful life.

She’ll continue to walk around the lake in the middle of Scottsdale every day, continue her workouts to stay in shape and teach the occasional private lesson if someone should want one from one of the greatest Olympics gymnasts of all time.

“Arizona is a retirement place, so I enjoy it here,” she said. “I always wanted to plant to garden. I never had time for that and now I will do whatever I want, plant fruits, herbs and enjoy the weather.”

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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week after suffering ankle and knee injuries this fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since a Nov. 9 practice fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October.

Chen is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Hanyu won four straight national titles before missing last season’s event with the flu.

He was still named to Japan’s team for worlds, where he won his second title in four years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Green Bay Packers pull another Olympic sport TD celebration

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We’re halfway to a decathlon of Olympic sport touchdown celebrations over the last two seasons.

After the hurdles, the long jump, the bobsled and the relay came the race walk on Sunday.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, once part of a three-man bobsled team, led three other teammates in a race walk after scoring in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. (Adams later left the game with a concussion.)

Adams won the race walk, which was much, much shorter than the standard Olympic distances of 20km and 50km, over teammates Jordy NelsonRandall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.

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