Maxi Gnauck (GDR)

For a thorough listing of Maxi Gnauck's competitive results, please visit Gymn Forum's Gnauck biography.

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Photo used with the expressed permission of Tom Theobald

Having won a total of 27 Olympic, World, and European medals - the majority of them gold - Maxi Gnauck should be nothing short of a legend in gymnastics.

Born on October 10, 1964, Gnauck's parents enrolled her in their local gymnastics club after finding a piece of paper on which their daughter had scribbled, "I'm going to be a World Champion in Gymnastics!" "Mini-Maxi" burst onto the scene at East Germany's Spartakiade for Children and Youth in 1977. Although still a junior, she was entered in Japan's 1978 Chunichi Cup, where she placed a respectable 4th among a notable field of senior gymnasts (including Elena Naimushina and Yelena Davydova, both of whom went on to represent the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics, the latter winning the Olympic AA title).

It was the 1979 World Championships however, where Gnauck truly made a splash. A relative unknown, she surprised most by placing second behind Nelli Kim (URS) in the All-Around. It was also here that Gnauck earned the first in her long string of uneven bar gold medals. By the end of her career, Gnauck secured herself a spot in the gymnastics record book for having won the most World and Olympic gold medals on the uneven bars. Amazingly, she maintained this honor until very recently, when Khorkina won gold on bars at the 1999 World Championships. (Not to deny Khorkina's ability on bars, but Gnauck did compete at a time where there were fewer World Championship opportunities in which to medal).

Gnauck was no less spectacular at the 1980 Olympics. She led her team to a bronze place finish, came within a heart beat of winning the AA (she ended up tying with Nadia Comaneci for the silver medal), won gold on bars, and tied for third on floor.

At the 1981 European Championships, Gnauck finally won the gold medal in the AA that had alluded her for so long. Her triumph was cause for great celebration, for this represented East Germany's first AA victory in women's gymnastics since Karin Janz' 1969 win at the European Championships. Gnauck's near sweep of the event finals - gold medals on bars, beam and floor - (she "only" won silver on the vault) was cause for further celebration. Incidentally, both Janz and Gnauck were coached by the great Jürgen Heritz. Also, although she always listed bars as her favorite event during her competitive years (not surprising given her incredible success on this event), in a recent interview with GYMeurope, Gnauck admitted that, "No, it [bars] was my coach's favourite!"

Gnauck was nothing less than a favourite heading into the 1981 World Championships. Unfortunately, she was hampered by a foot injury and failed to finish her floor routine during team preliminaries. As a result, she placed dismally in prelims (scoring something like a 3.5 on floor and 70th overall, or so I've heard), obviously failing to qualify to the AA competition. Her brilliance on vault, bars, and beam shone through however, and she qualified to all three event finals. Days later, Gnauck swept all three of these finals.

Although spectacular on bars throughout her career, many a gymnastics fan disagree with the 10.0 score that she received on bars at these Championships. Ma Yahong's superb, many say superior, routine scored only a 9.90. The Chinese agreed, protesting the scoring by not showing up at the award ceremonies.

The next few years were relatively quiet for Maxi. She did well at the 1982 World Cup, winning bars and medalling on floor, but was noticeably absent at the 1983 European Championships. According to the August 1983 issue of International Gymnast magazine, during the morning training session she missed her Deltchev on bars, falling awkwardly and dislocating her elbow and chipping the bone).

Although she won bars at the 1983 World Championships (and celebrated in her team's bronze medal performance), individually she was not quite as strong as usual. She placed 7th overall, 4th on vault, and 4th on the balance beam. With the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics just over the horizon, Gnauck looked poised to win bars, but perhaps had lost favor as a contender for the AA.

Unfortunately, Gnauck and many other Eastern bloc athletes never did get the chance to compete in Los Angeles. Following the Soviet Union's lead, many Eastern bloc countries, including East Germany, boycotted the 1984 Olympics. Instead, Gnauck and many other Eastern bloc gymnasts found themselves competing at Olomouc in the Alternate Games (needless to say, the more supreme competition). Although Olga Mostepanova (URS) won the AA title with Gnauck second, the fight was described as "breathtaking" by World Gymnastics magazine, with Mostepanova assured of her victory only after Gnauck lost her grip on a release on the uneven bars. While bars proved to be her nemesis during the AA competition, she mastered the event in finals winning gold (she also won gold on floor and bronze on vault).

Gnauck replicated her success from Olomouc at the 1985 European Championships, again placing second in the AA and first on bars. These championships would prove to be her final major competition, although according to Gymn Forum it was not until 1986 that she formally announced her retirement. Gnauck went on to study at the University of Leipzig and become a coach.

On January 9, 2000, Gnauck was the guest of honor at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the German Gymnastics Federation. GYMeurope caught up with Gnauck at this event and learned that coaching has proven to be a bit of a challenge following Germany's reunification. Eastern bloc countries placed great importance on sport, and coaching was a profession that only followed from several years of university education. Indeed, even though she was a top gymnast, Gnauck had to spend four years studying sport at the University of Leipzig in order to become a gymnastics coach. As she lamented to GYMeurope though, "after East and West Germany were united, this [her university degree in coaching] was not worth anything anymore. It made me quite mad because it was a very, very good education."

Gnauck interviewed on ORB at the 2001 Cottbus Cup.
Screen grab courtesy of Digital Gymnastics

With few stable coaching positions available in Germany, Gnauck began accepting international coaching contracts. During the 1990s, she spent two months coaching in South Africa and ten weeks coaching in Great Britain. When a coaching position in the northern German city Norderstedt became available, Gnauck jumped at the chance. As she explained to GYMeurope, she is very happy to be back in Germany, "I want to stay in Germany...I feel too German to live anywhere else." In Norderstedt Gnauck coaches some 50 girls between the ages of four and 16. She and her boyfriend live in nearby Henstedt-ulsburg.

Gnauck is finally starting to receive the same level of recognition that has been bestowed on many of her gymnastics peers. She was inducted into the International Hall of Gymnastics Fame in early June, 2000.She was also a guest of honour, and a judge, at the 2001 Cottbus Cup.

Fun Fact: According to Katja of TEAM GERMANY!!, Maxi's parents were expecting a son and had planned to name him Max. When baby Gnauck turned out to be a girl, they decided to call her "Maxi," a very unconventional name in German.

Many thanks to Richard for translating the GYMeurope interview with Maxi for me.

. This page was created on March 20, 2000 and last updated on April 30, 2001.

 

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