Natalia Kuchinskaya (URS)
Tribute by Barbara Fisher and Jennifer Isbister

1965 Jr. Friendship Tournament: 1st AA
1965 USSR Championships: 1st AA, 1st B
1965 USSR Cup: 2nd AA
1965 USSR-JPN Dual Meet: 1st Team, 2nd AA
1966 Tiflis Invitational: 1st AA
1966 USSR Championships: 1st AA, 1st B, 1st FX, 2nd UB, 4th V
1966 USSR Cup: 1st AA
1966 USSR World Trials: 1st AA
1966 World Championships: 2nd Team, 2nd AA, 1st UB, 1st BB, 1st FX, 3rd V
1967 European Championships: 9th AA, 2nd B, 2nd FX, 5th V
1967 Pre-Olympics: 1st AA
1967 USSR Championships: 1st AA, 1st V, 1st UB, 1st B, 1st FX
1967 USSR Spartakiade: 1st AA
1968 USSR Championships: 1st AA
1968 Olympics: 1st Team, 3rd AA, 1st B, 3rd FX, 5th V

Results courtesy of Gymn Forum

Before Nadia, before Olga, there was another gymnast who caught the crowd's attention. Her name was Natalia Kuchinskaya, nicknamed The Bride of Mexico. The 1968 Olympics would be her only Olympics, and although she did not win the all-around gold (she placed third), she shared team gold, placed first on beam, and earned bronze in her final performance at these Games.

Natalia Kuchinskaya was born March 12, 1949, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Kuchinskaya started gymnastics the way many girls did in the former USSR; she was picked from her kindergarten class to attend after school gym classes. The choice was not unexpected; Natalia's parents worked as gymnastics coaches. Although at the time, young Natalia had dreams of becoming a ballerina and had to be convinced to pursue gymnastics. Once her talent became apparent she transferred to a sports school. She loved the early years, but as the years went on she found the training harder and harder to take. She wanted more freedom.

Kuchinskaya's first World Championships came in 1966, at age 17. A relative unknown, the gymnastics world quickly took notice. Kuchinskaya won bronze in the all-around, and stormed the event finals picking up three gold medals (all but vault). A very pretty girl, with charm and grace, the spectators and newspapers alike fell in love with her. The fact that she came up short during the all-around (silver) seemed to make them love her even more (as would prove to be the case in 1972, for Olga Korbut).

It was in Mexico, at the 1968 Olympics, where the press nicknamed her "The Bride of Mexico" for her enormous crowd following. In winning the Olympic test event the year before, Kuchinskaya earned a legion of Mexican fans. Mariachi singers serenaded Kuchinskaya with a tune called "Natalie" throughout the Games. But all-around gold was not meant to be. She finished third all-around, but came back to win beam and medal (bronze) on floor.

Back from the Olympics, Kuchinskaya announced she'd had enough. She trained sporadically, and eventually stopped going all together. Years later, in the PBS series "Red Files," Kuchinskaya spoke of the pressure to stay in gymnastics. “But you have to [train], it’s your duty” she was told by the federation. Her mother also lectured her on duties. Tired, and sick of the gym and its magnesium, she said she couldn't even stand the sight of the hall. She quit.

Quitting had consequences for the young Natasha. Her stipend was severed, and she realized that because of so little schooling, she could do little else than coach gymnastics. She was not welcomed at nearby clubs, “You have stopped working for us, so don’t talk to us or come to us any more”.

A thyroid condition soon added to Kuchinskaya's problems - she gained weight, and become very unhappy. Well loved at home in the Soviet Union, fan letters poured in. One wrote, "For the love of God do something, so that Kuchinskaya will return to the arena!" She never returned. She became somewhat of an enigma among fans and fellow gymnasts, one Soviet athlete recalling how he was encouraged to train by his coach's promise that he would arrange for the boy to meet Kuchinskaya. 

Kuchinskaya tried her hand at the stage before a coaching position could be found. She ended up in Japan, returning to the Soviet Union a few years later to coach rhythmic gymnastics and then artistic gymnastics. Kuchinskaya now lives in the United States. She is married to Alexander Kotliar, an optician, and coaches in the Chicago area alongside Leonard Isaacs (who coached Larissa Fontaine). Kuchinskaya's own coach, Vladimiar Reyson, also lives in the United States (New Jersey). Reyson and Kuchinskaya remain coach.

. This page was created May 2, 2003.