Nellie Kim (URS)
Tribute by Barbara Fisher and Jennifer Isbister

For a listing of Kim's competitive results, please visit Gymn Forum's Nellie Kim biography.

Buy Nelli's biography - A terrific read!

Nellie Kim was born in Chimkent in 1957, her father of Korean descent and her mother Tartar.. She started gymnastics at school, as did many former Soviets. Initially Nellie did not impress coach Baudin, but she was a hard worker and enjoyed the sport, so she persevered. The young Nellie was quite star struck, standing timidly to collect autographs of such Soviet stars at Tourischeva, Korbut and Lazakovich. Eventually she would surpass these competitors, but she continued for awhile without receiving much recognition. Nellie quotes Larrisa Latynina as having said, "As for Kim, there is no future for her".

Nellie's hard work eventually began to pay off, and she was awarded international assignments. It was at the 1973 Druzhba meet where she met the girl who would be her main rival for many years: Romania's Nadia Comaneci. The confident Nellie recounts that while her teammates were impressed with Nadia - and even a little scared of her - Nellie felt she had the skills to compete with her, so was not intimidated.

By 1974, Nelli was ready to compete at the World Championships. While she did not do well overall in Yugoslavia, she did contribute to her team's gold. Nelli eentered the AA with a sprained ankle, and came to grief on vault. Ironically, vault is an event she would dominate in years to come. 

Nellie was determined to overcome her ankle to win a medal on beam, the only event to which she qualified for finals. To save the ankle, she chose not to participate in warm-up. The decision proved a good one, and she medalled behind Tourischeva and Korbut. Nellie admits to just wanting to get home so that she could show her family the medal - she never really thought about competing for her country; She wanted to do well for herself and for her coach.

The 1975 European Championships proved a "Nellie versus Nadia" battleground. Nadia won gold in the AA, and on vault, bars, and beam. Nellie was right on her heels, with silver in the AA, bronze on vault and bars, silver on beam, and edging out Nadia on floor (gold for Nellie, and silver for Nadia). Several months later, at the pre-Olympic meet, Nellie once again place second AA to Nadia, but battled back to win most of the event golds. Nellie had clearly established herself as the one to battle Nadia for medals at the Olympics.

Nellie arrived at the 1976 Olympics and found herself having problems on vault. The National Film Board of Canada's documentary Nellie shows Nellie arguing with her coach over the event - a rare occurance for a Soviet gymnast to stand up to her coach! In her biography, Nellie admits that the stress of the games was too much, and Filatova and Latynina helped her pull herself together after she had a breakdown.

In Montreal, the Soviets again won the team event but everybody knew that the AA would be an uphill struggle for them. Again, Nadia pulled out all the stops and won, though Nellie made history herself by scoring a 10.0 on vault. Again the bridesmaid, she proved golden during the event finals, winning the titles on vault and floor, the latter with a 10.0. Nellie developed her own following at these Games, fans appreciating her feminine beauty and her style. While Olga was flamboyant, Ludmila graceful, and Nadia intense, Nellie was all three wrapped into one! 

Nellie's second appearance at the European Championships saw her take bronze in the AA behind Comaneci and teammate Elena Mukhina. Mukhina proved her biggest rival the following year, at the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, France. There, Nellie took silver to Mukhina, in a tie for gold on floor with her, but besting the competition on vault.

Nellie did not compete much in 1979, having been diagnosed with an ulcer that required her to spend much time in the hospital. Nellie didn't like being told that she'd never regain form, and the restless Nelli went back to the doctor and demanded to be cleared to do gymnastics again. Later that year, she had the best World Championships of her life.

The Soviet team arrived in Fort Worth beset by injuries and missing members, some okay to travel (Shaposhnikova), but others too injured to even make the trip (reigning World Champion Elena Mukhina). A spirited but also injured Romanian team beam them for team gold, marking the Soviet's first team loss since the late 1960s. Perhaps spurred by the loss, competing in the ensuing AA marks one of the few times that Nellie admits to having competed for her country, and not just for herself. She went on to win AA gold, and take several medals in the event finals, though none of them gold.

The reigning World Champion, it is surprising that (and unknown why?) the Soviet authorities discouraged her from trying to compete at the 1980 Olympics, held in Moscow. Regardless, Nellie made the team, avenging their defeat the year before by leading her younger teammates to victory. The AA and event finals were less kind to Nellie, who was without medals leading up to floor finals. There, in another controversial decision at these Games, she tied Comaneci for gold. Apparently Nellie turned to Nadia on the podium and questioned, "That's it. Time to go, right?" Nadia agreed, "Yes, time to go." During their long competitive career, these are said to be the only words the two spoke to each other.

After the Olympics, Nellie stayed in Minsk, Belarus and began to coach and to judge. She was seen quite regularly at major competitions, e.g., 1988 Olympics, until she did get into trouble (favouring Soviet gymnasts)  and judging license temporarily revoked.

BBC interview with Kim at the 2002 Glasgow Grand Prix
Screen grab courtesy of Digital Gymnastics

During her career Nellie married a fellow gymnast, though this marriage did not last long. She met her second husband at the 1980 Olympics, and a daughter (also named Nellie) was born in the mid-1980. In the 1990s Nellie moved to the United States, now residing in Minnesota. She continues to judge and work with the F.I.G., also touring the USA to provide consulting, choreography, and private lessons.

Tatiana Lysenko's excellent Flip videos profiles Nellie, who shows viewers around her home. She was thrilled that a competition in her hometown of Chimkent would be called the Nellie Kim Cup and encouraged everyone to come and watch. Nellie has a Web site, from which you can purchase her biography. It is a fascinating read and they also include a photo album showing pictures of Nellie's childhood and competitive career -- A must for all gymnastics fans!

. This page was created October 24, 2002.