2011 International Gymnastics Hall of Fame honorees Dr. Michel Leglise, Steffi Kräker, Alexander Tkatchev, Lavinia Milosovici and Leonid Arkayev visit the hall in Oklahoma City.
From emcee Bart Conner's tearful tribute to the late Frank Bare to the emotional acceptance speech of Russia's Leonid Arkayev, the 15th annual induction dinner had it all. Held in the elegant Petroleum Club in Oklahoma City Saturday night, the event inducted Arkayev along with Romania's Lavinia Milosovici, Russia's Alexander Tkatchev and Germany's Steffi Kräker. Dr. Michel Leglise of France was honored with the AAI International Order of Merit for his volunteer work with the FIG as Chief of the Medical Commission, among other roles.
Bare, the former IGHOF Chairman and a member of the Hall of Fame himself, died earlier this spring, but his wife, Linda, made the trip from California to witness the proceedings. Others on hand included 1976 Olympic champion Nadia Comaneci, FIG Men's Technical Committee President Adrian Stoica, 1999 world all-around champion Maria Olaru, 1988 Olympic gold medalist Daniela Silivas, former Soviet national team member Yefim Furman, and former FIG Women's Technical Committee President Jackie Fie.
But the evening belonged to the inductees, which brought the total membership of the Hall of Fame to 76 individuals from 20 countries.
After Dr. Leglise accepted his award with humor and humility, Milosovici was the first of the quartet of inductees to speak to the gathered guests. With Comaneci interpreting, and her husband, Cosmin Vanatu, at her table, Milosovici was thoughtful yet revealing in her words.
"I am more emotional now than you can see when I was competing," she said, referring to the video clip that preceded her award. "I really like to perform more than give a speech."
Milosovici, who won a world or Olympic gold on all four women's events and earned all-around medals in consecutive Olympics (1992, '96), proved she was just as adept at speeches as she was gymnastics.
"Today is a very special day for me, because the happiness and nostalgia are on the same level," she said. "Sometimes when I look back I feel like that time in my life was a dream."
Tkatchev was next, and humbly accepted his award with few words. A coach in Florida with his wife, Lidia Gorbik, Tkatchev's innovative reverse hecht on high bar in the 1970s is one of the most common skills today on high bar and uneven bars.
Tkatchev said that "gymnastics is my life," and was extremely grateful for the honor of induction.
Kraeker, who competed for the German Democratic Republic, talked about how fortunate she was to be able to travel to the U.S. to receive this honor.
"My husband and I would not be here as visitors" if the Berlin Wall had not come down in 1989, she said.
Overshadowed by the likes of Comaneci throughout her career, Kräker still managed to stand out from her competitors with her athleticism and originality.
"I would like to thank you for allowing me to take this journey into my past," said Kräker, who is a psychotherapist in her native Leipzig. Before she stepped away from the microphone, she presented a small piece of the Berlin Wall to Conner and Comaneci as gift.
While the guests in the room viewed the video clip of Arkayev's achievements, the man himself remained stoic until a photo was shown of him celebrating with his 1996 Olympic champion men's team from Russia. A grin spread across his face, as no doubt the memories flooded back.
But all the years were not kind to Arkayev, who over the years watched his great Soviet teams win more medals that he can count. After the 2004 Olympics, he was abruptly voted out as head of Russian Gymnastics, and now he coaches in the Mordovian region of Russia.
"People in Russia forget everything," he said, after praising the Hall of Fame for preserving gymnastics history for the world. "The past is very important."
Arkayev's eyes were red by the end of his speech, which was translated by Furman. For on this night, he was revered by everyone again.
"It's a big honor for me to be in the Hall of Fame with people I know very well ... We're all in one family despite all the fighting and competition."
On this night in Oklahoma City, chalk up another victory for the Hall of Fame.