On March 21, 1973, the University of Maryland received a special visit from the Soviet Union’s women’s gymnastics team. The country’s female gymnasts had never lost a Summer Olympic Games up to that point, racking up golds at every games between 1952 and 1972.
The team’s visit featured young star Olga Korbut, who was only 17 years old when she came to College Park.
After meeting with President Richard Nixon earlier in the day, the Russian gymnasts traveled to College Park to perform in the evening.
“He told me that my performance in Munich did more for reducing the political tension during the Cold War between our two countries than the embassies were able to do in five years,” Korbut said in The Olympic Odyssey: Rekindling the True Spirit of the Great Games.
So, amidst the Cold War, a sellout crowd packed Cole Field House for a glimpse of Korbut and her teammates. Their performance was even televised in the D.C. region.
Korbut amazed the crowd with her signature performances on the balance beam and the floor routine, mixing in splits, somersaults and flips. Korbut even performed her famous “Korbut Flip,” a backflip on the uneven parallel bars that is still performed by gymnasts today.
At the end of the team’s performance, the crowd rose for a standing ovation while Naval Academy students “presented the Soviets with roses and kisses,” according to The Diamondback.
In response to the Soviets’ appearance, a group of students from the Jewish Defense League protested outside the arena.
The visit by the Soviet gymnasts was the second diplomatic sporting event in Cole. The preceding year, China and the U.S. faced off in a ping-pong match that was the first athletic event ever between the two nations. You can find more information about this landmark occasion here.
The Diamondback is the university’s primary student newspaper, and its coverage of campus events provides an invaluable perspective on the university’s history. Thanks to generous donations and a successful Launch UMD campaign, the University Archives is digitizing the entire run of the newspaper, which is currently available on microfilm in the University Archives and McKeldin Library. This post is the part of a series based on information collected during the Diamondback Digitization Project. Check out the Twitter hashtag #digiDBK or the DigiDBK tag on our Terrapin Tales blog for previous posts. Look out for more DigiDBK posts from our team throughout the coming months!