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Olympic moves and the athletes that immortalised them


Every once in a while, there are accomplishments in sport that seem to redefine the limits of the human body. Some of these live on as world records. Others change how the sport is played. Some moves are so revolutionary, they become synonymous with their creator.

Austrian athlete Alois Lutz, after whom a figure-skating jump is named. (Wikimedia Commons)
Austrian athlete Alois Lutz, after whom a figure-skating jump is named. (Wikimedia Commons)

Like the Lutz in skating, a jump named after Alois Lutz of Austria in 1913. It’s where a figure skater takes off from the back inside edge of one foot and lands on the other foot. Or the Salchow (pronounced “sow cow”), named after the Swedish Olympic gold medallist Ulrich Salchow, where one takes off from the back inside edge of the blade and lands on the back outside edge of the other foot, with an airborne spin usually performed in a circular pattern.

American ice skater Mirai Nagasu was the first to successfully perform a Triple Axel, a move first incorporated by Norwegian Axel Paulsen in 1882 but now upgraded three times. It’s one of the hardest moves to execute in the sport. (Getty Images)
American ice skater Mirai Nagasu was the first to successfully perform a Triple Axel, a move first incorporated by Norwegian Axel Paulsen in 1882 but now upgraded three times. It’s one of the hardest moves to execute in the sport. (Getty Images)

You might also recognise the Axel, when a figure-skater spins like a coin? Its name doesn’t come from axes or axles, but from the Norwegian Axel Paulsen, who first performed this move in 1882. An Axel is one and a half rotations in the air. It remains among the hardest moves to execute in the sport — it’s the only jump where the skater faces forward as they take off from the ice.

Gymnasts can submit a unique move to be named after them if they have landed it successfully at a major competition like a world championship or the Olympics. There are moves named after the US’s Simone Biles, Hungarian Henrietta Onodi, there’s even a Bhardwaj and a Bhavsar, named after two American gymnasts with roots in the subcontinent. Take a look:

The Biles bouquet: Simone Biles, 24, has four moves named after her. In 2019, she made history by landing two of these at the World Championships in Stuttgart. One is a double-twisting double backflip on beam that’s known as the Biles. The other is a double back flip with three twists, now known as the Biles II, which she used to start her floor routine.

The former is so dangerous that, in a controversial move, it was awarded fewer points so that more competitors wouldn’t be tempted to try it (and also presumably so that Biles wouldn’t walk away with entire competitions before they’d begun). The unfairness of that move made news at the time. “I look back at videos and wonder how I did that,” Biles has said in interviews.

The Onodi: Also known as the Arabian front handspring, it can be performed on beam and floor and is named after Hungarian Olympian Henrietta Onodi, who performed it in 1989. It’s when a gymnast jumps backwards and does a half twist into a front handspring. Incidentally, Onodi won gold for vault at the 1992 Barcelona Games, though that routine did not involve this move.

The Amanar vault: This vault begins with a back handspring onto the table and includes a layout with two-and-half twists after pushing off the table. The move is named after Simona Amanar of Romania, who performed it at the 2000 Olympics, contributing to her team taking home the gold.

The Bhardwaj Salto: Named for Mohini Bhardwaj, also called a full-twisting Pak Salto (the Pak being named after North Korean gymnast Gyong Sil Pak) it’s a move on uneven bars in artistic gymnastics. The gymnast starts on the high bar and swings down and flips backwards with a 360-degree twist to catch the low bar. Bhardwaj performed the move at the 2004 Olympics, the same games at which she became the first Indian-American to medal in gymnastics at the Games.

American gymnast Raj Bhavsar has two moves named after him, on the parallel bars and the still rings. (Image courtesy RajBhavsar.com)
American gymnast Raj Bhavsar has two moves named after him, on the parallel bars and the still rings. (Image courtesy RajBhavsar.com)

The Bhavsar: Gymnast Raj Bhavsar has two moves named after him — the Bhavsar on parallel bars, a move that starts on one end of the bars and finishes on the other; and the Bhavsar on still rings. He debuted them in 2009 and 2003 respectively. The Olympic medallist quit the sport in 2009 and performed with the Cirque du Soleil entertainment company for two years. “As an acrobat, I had the opportunity to take my gymnastics and wrap an art form around it,” he said. He is now an actor and fitness entrepreneur.

The Fosbury Flop: American athlete Dick Fosbury invented his Flop in high school, when he realised that, though he wasn’t as good at executing the frontal and sideways high-jump moves, he could gain an edge if he stretched out on his back and landed backwards and headfirst. In the Fosbury Flop, the jumper uses this technique to gain elevation. (The technique was also made possible by the switch from sandpits to deep foam mats.) Fosbury first performed this move internationally at the 1968 Mexico City Games, where it earned him gold and a record-breaking leap. Elite high-jumpers have been doing it ever since. The Fosbury Flop allows athletes to coordinate their performances better, jump higher, and do it without risking the knee injuries common to the sport.

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