BY his modest nature Alexander Tkatchev avoids the spot- light, so it is ironic that he invented a skill that created utter disbe- lief throughout world gymnastics. Today his reverse hecht on high bar is one of the most common release skills for men and women.
Born Oct. 4, 1957, in Voronezh, Russia, Tkatchev won two golds and a silver
at the 1980 Olympics, and became high bar world champion in 1981, his
third and final worlds. Today, Tkatchev and his wife, 1976 Soviet Olympic
alternate Lidia Gorbik, run Dinamo Gymnastics in Sanford, Fla., where he is
the ultimate expert in teaching the skill he imagined decades ago.
What inspired you to try the reverse hecht on
high bar? I remember one gymnast on our team
was doing a skill like this for a dismount, and I
thought it was possible to catch the bar. His name
was Gennady Yakunin. And that’s why I tried to
develop this skill.
You didn’t do the skill during warm-ups in the
Riga Cup, where you first competed it. Did
you want it to be a surprise? Yes, I purposely
did not show the skill in warm-ups, and [then] I
show right away for the judges.
The skill looked very easy for you. You did it
late in the routine and without much tap… At
that time, the skill was not difficult for me. I could
do it without warm-up, and during my sporting life
I never fell on this skill.
How long did it take to learn? I learned it in
about one week, and then there was preparation
for the (1976) Olympic Games for Montreal, and I
stopped learning it to prepare my program. And
then, after the Olympic Games, right away I tried
again to learn it, and in about one week I made it.
Did you use an overhead spotting belt? The
first time I didn’t have any spotting; I just [landed]
in the pit. Then, with my coach, I used the spotting belt, but almost without spotting.
When is the last time you’ve done a reverse
hecht, just for fun? It was a long time ago … at
40 years old … I did it in a demonstration in
France in 1995, and in a workout in about 1997.
Did people say you were crazy when you first
did it? The first time, yes, somebody [said] it was
crazy. But many people now can do this skill. Kids
12 years old are working this skill.
Did you ever imagine people would do it with
a full twist? In my time, I tried to develop [anoth-er] skill: a Tkatchev with a front tuck, but not
catch the bar—just as a dismount. I tried a one-hand Tkatchev but never put it in competition.
But I remember [other] gymnasts already did it
with a full [twist].
What do you enjoy most about working at
your gym? I like to teach the young gymnasts
new skills. It’s interesting for me to see how they
progress in their gymnastics life.
How does it feel to hear your name frequently
on TV during gymnastics competitions? Now I
[am used to it at] every competition. “Tkatchev”
on the TV set. “Tkatchev,” “Tkatchev.” Before, it
was unusual, but now it is [common].
Tkatchev first competed his reverse hecht at the 1977 Riga Cup.
What is your opinion of men’s gymnastics
today, under the open-ended Code of Points?
It’s open for gymnasts to make a long routine for
a high score. Before, the routines were short—
mostly short. Now it’s a long [laughs] routine. The
gymnast is looking for the difficulty and more
skills. It’s difficult.
Which would you prefer: the old way or new
way? I don’t know. In any time we have a different problem. In my time it was developing new
skills. And many gymnasts [today] are looking for
new skills, but now you need more endurance for
working these routines.
It’s difficult to compare. It’s the same as if you
compare my time with the routines of (Viktor)
Chukarin and other great gymnasts. Now gymnastics also is different.
How did it feel to see Leonid Arkayev at the
Hall of Fame dinner? I was very happy to see
him because I had not seen him for 10 years. The
last time I saw him was when I lived in France.
He’s changed in appearance, but in his mind he’s
stayed the same: a very active man [who] gave a
lot for the development of gymnastics, and continues to do [so].
Why didn’t you tell the people at your gym
that you were being inducted into the
International Gymnastics Hall of Fame? For
me it was also a surprise, because I didn’t know
what it meant. I didn’t understand it well. And it’s
a very important organization for the memories of
gymnastics. Before, I had heard about this but didn’t think it was very important. And before I went,
all the people knew about [the Hall of Fame] and
told me it’s a very [big] honor … and I [agree] with
them. I was very honored to be there [as part of]
that wonderful team forever. —D.N.