Nikolai Andrianov: Gymnast who became the second most decorated male athlete in Olympic history

Nikolai Andrianov was Russia's most decorated male gymnast and the second most decorated male athlete in Olympic history, winning 15 Olympic medals as well as 12 World Championship and 18 European Championship medals, an unsurpassed medal count.

In all, he won 20 Olympic, World and European titles, as well as seven World Cups. His total of 15 Olympic medals was the record for men until the American swimmer Michael Phelps surpassed him at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Overall, the record is held by another Russian gymnast, Larissa Latynina, who won 18 medals in 1956, 1960 and 1964.

Coming from an impoverished background, Andrianov harnessed his strong personality and sacrificed much to climb to the top of his sport, a feat he believed saved his life. Though few knew, he did it while also enjoying cigarettes and vodka. Though physically and technically gifted, he was also known for his courage and as one of the toughest competitors in the sport. He often pushed other gymnasts to match his feats, such as attempting triple-back flip dismounts from the rings when everyone else was doing doubles.

One of four children, Nikolai Yefimovich Andrianov was born in Vladimir, about 200 kilometres east of Moscow in 1952; abandoned by their father, they were raised by their mother. Andrianov often played truant, and when he was in school he could be disruptive; he was heading for trouble until gymnastics "saved" him.

He came to the sport relatively late, aged 12, after a friend convinced him to give it a try. He entered the Children and Youth Sports School of the famed Burevestnik Sports Society in his home town. However, he quit soon after, as he was the oldest boy among the beginners. Impressed by the little he had seen, the renowned coach Nikolai Tolkachyov tracked him down and persuaded him to return, coaching him and helping him catch up with his school work.

Andrianov learned quickly and in 1969, aged 17, made the USSR youth team. In 1970, he earned a place on the Soviet national team and won his first six medals in international competition, including two golds, in pommel horse and vault, at the 1971 European Championships in Madrid. The following year, he won the title of all-round Soviet champion. The 1972 Olympics saw Andrianov, immensely powerful in the upper body, make his mark, winning the floor competition and taking team silver as well as a bronze in the vault. Arguably his finest hour came four years later in Montreal, when he won seven medals, including gold in the floor exercises, rings and vault, and the all-around title.

In Moscow in 1980, as representative of the hosts, Andrianov was given the honour of taking the Olympic Oath on behalf of his fellow athletes. He went on to win five more medals, including golds in the vault and the team competition.

In retirement, Andrianov continued to dedicate himself to gymnastics, as well as his family – he had married the double Olympic gymnastics champion Lyubov Burda in 1973. From 1981-92 he was head coach of the Soviet junior men's team, his star pupil Vitaly Scherbo, who won six out of eight possible golds in Barcelona in 1992, the greatest performance by a gymnast at a single Games. Andrianov went on to judge internationally and, in 1990 was elected president of the Soviet Gymnastics Federation.

Scherbo, who now runs a gymnastics school in Los Angeles, recalled Andrianov getting him re-instated into the national team after he had been suspended. "He was my mentor," he said. "He taught me how to concentrate, to keep myself inside myself.."

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Andrianov accepted an invitation in 1994 from his friend and former rival Mitsuo Tsukahara to coach in Japan. One of the gymnasts he coached was Tsukahara's son Naoya, who helped lead Japan to team gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Andrianov returned to Vladimir in 2002 to coach at the gym where he had started out. Among his protégés was the future Olympian Yuri Ryazanov, who was killed in a car accident in October 2009, days after winning all-round bronze at the world championships in London. By then Andrianov was suffering from multiple system astrophy (MSA), a rare neurological disorder similar to Parkinson's Disease. He became severely disabled, confined to bed and unable to move his limbs or talk, as the disease slowly paralysed him.



Nikolai Yefimovich Andrianov, gymnast; born Vladimir, Russia 14 October 1952; married 1973 Lyubov Burda (two sons); died Vladimir 21 March 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy