Soviet Olympic Gymnast Star Olga Korbut Sells Medals: Here's Why

Legendary gymnast Olga Korbut has sold her collection of medals won at the 1972 Munich Olympic games among a sale of memorabilia at an auction in the United States, auctioneers said on Monday.

Korbut's 1972 balance beam gold was reportedly stolen from a Moscow museum but the other five medals were among items which fetched about $330,000 in total.

She retired in 1977 and moved into coaching.

Russian newspaper Gazeta reported on the auction under the headline "Medals saved Korbut from hunger", saying she was "virtually destitute".

Russia's Gazeta.ru news reports that she has had financial difficulties.

Korbut's gold medal at the 1972 Munich Games in the team event sold for $66,000 dollars, her individual gold medal in the floor event was snapped up for $52,000, and her silver medal in the uneven bars routine went for $24,600. Also got rid of the silver gem that she obtained in beam of balance and the gold for teams in the Olympic Games of Montreal 1976. Now 61, she lives in Arizona.

Known as "the Sparrow from Minsk", the 17-year-old - just 4ft 11in (1.5 metres) tall and weighing 6 stone (38kg) - won three golds and a silver, followed by another gold and silver in Montreal where she ran up against the Romanian prodigy Nadia Comăneci. Her captivating smile and quirky charm helped to turn her into an Olympic legend.

The sale items included one of her performance leotards, her 1972 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, various Soviet medals and a sports magazine cover signed by her. The Soviet gymnast, who moved to the U.S. in 1986, raised £147,000 at a sale organised by Heritage Auctions.

Two months after the shoplifting incident, her son Richard received jail time after being found guilty of producing counterfeit money.

  • Julie Sanders