The Kims

In the year 2004, one Nellie Kim—legendary Soviet gymnast of the 1970s—was elected head of the Women’s Technical Committee. At that time, there were exactly zero skills named after her in the women’s code of points. Today, there are 7.

What happened there? Only one of my mostest favoritest things in all of gymnastics—the Nellification of the code of points. Every time a new edition of the code of points was published, Nellie Kim would just suddenly drop in more and more skills that she decided to retroactively name after herself. Due to modesty. Icon.

It’s a good thing Donatella is in charge of the WTC now because we were about three years away from the city of St. Petersburg becoming Nelliegrad.

Admittedly, the process of naming skills in gymnastics has been subject to disastrous disorganization and inconsistently applied rules since forever (many, many names are missing or inaccurate or lost to time), so some of this was a matter of rectifying past oversights where innovators of skills have gone unrecognized for decades. A noble goal. Of course, this noble consideration was afforded to precisely one person, Nellie Kim, and no others.

So let’s take a trip down Nellie lane to examination all the skills that she decided to turn into The Kim.

Also fun—Nellie cites her exact competitions in naming every single one these skills after herself (much appreciated, wish that process had begun sooner for everyone). Meanwhile, Chellsie Memmel’s name is still misspelled 15 years later and the toe-on Counter-Kim is still listed as “To Be Confirmed,” but every single breath Nellie Kim ever took is fastidiously recorded and dated for posterity.


Handspring forward on, 1.5 off – 1974 World Championships

Ah, the youngest member of the Kim septuplets. Nellie named this skill after herself starting in the 2013 update to the code of points, citing her completion of it at the 1974 world championships, 39 years prior.

As far as I can tell, no video exists of Kim vaulting at 1974 worlds. Awfully convenient. Since Kim did not compete in the AA final or advance to the vault final at those world championships, we’ll have to take her word for it that the 8.600 she received on vault in the team optionals portion of that competition reflects her successful completion of this new vault.

Tsukahara tucked 1/1 – 1976 Olympics

This vault was among the first generation of Kims to be added to the code of points in those early-days editions of the open code in 2006ish, and this is where I’ll be nice and talk about Kim as a difficulty innovator who absolutely merits having multiple skills named after herself in the code. As far as I can tell, she was the first person to complete this skill at a worlds/Olympics at those Montreal games.

It’s always a little “as far as I can tell” when it comes to naming these skills because there’s not exactly judges cam videos of every single routine from competitions in the 70s. Did someone else do it before? Can’t be sure in retrospect. Which is kind of the issue here.

Compared to Tourischeva competing a Tsuk back tuck and Comaneci competing a Tsuk back pike, Kim was absolutely pushing the difficulty envelope for the other top all-arounders in the world. This was also the vault where Nellie got her 10 during those Olympics.

Tsukahara layout 1/1 – 1978 World Championships

But in addition to the tucked full, Nellie got kind of greedy in that first update by also awarding the layout version to herself. This is a delicious one because while Nellie did indeed perform this vault at 1978 worlds, so did her own Soviet teammate Natalia Shaposhnikova.

I think about all the years of multiple people originating skills at the same World Championships and having them named after no one, but obviously those rules don’t apply to Dear Darling Nellie. Shaposhnikova’s name is nowhere to be found in the code of points for this vault.

Now, perhaps Nellie was just like, “Girl, bye” about that execution and chose not to recognize it, which I can certainly get behind. The standard for naming a skill is that you have to receive credit for the element while not falling, but I would of course be in favor of a “make it not bad” amendment.

You could also say that Shaposhnikova’s edition should be considered tucked, so that she’s disqualified from getting the layout named after herself, but Nellie’s own version wasn’t that much more laid out so I don’t know if she has a leg to stand on there. Shaposhnikova definitely doesn’t after that vault.



Gainer tuck full off the end – 1976 Olympics

This is another case where I haven’t seen anyone else do this skill earlier or simultaneously, so I’ll give it to her. She definitely completed this dismount successfully. This naming was also added in that earliest Nellifcation of the code, and I feel like those skills are the most legitimate overall. The real Kims. After that, it was like she had a reputation to keep up and kind of started grasping at straws.

Side aerial into back tuck dismount – 1980 Olympics

Girl, this skill wasn’t even in the code of points until 2009 when you added it back. One of my favorite Nellie moves. This wasn’t an issue of an element going unnamed until Nellie scrawled her name next to it. It was fully gone. And then she was like, “Oh, this is a skill again and also it’s The Kim.”

The side aerial into back tuck is one of those multi-shape, multi-skill elements that ‘s super cool but has been weaned out of elite gymnastics in the last several decades as the emphasis has moved to single skills with a single definable shape. For the most part, those skills no longer appear as options in the chart. With this one exception. I can’t stay too mad because the skill is fascinating, but if someone else had done this, you know Nellie would have been like, “Actually, we’re going to consider that two separate skills, a side aerial and a back tuck, Nastia.”


Double back tucked – 1976 Olympics

You guys, Nellie invented the double tuck, which is really cool of her. For many years in the code of points, the double back was named after no one. Until the mid-2000s, when Nellie was like, “IT ME.”

It’s quite possible that the 1976 Olympics was the first incarnation of a double tuck at a nameable competition (so, you know, amazing, well done), but Nellie was not the only one. Her teammates Filatova and Korbut also competed double tucks at the same competition.

I adore that Nellie would actively go back and name the double tuck after herself knowing full well that she wasn’t the first woman to do this skill in competition. And none of the Soviets were. I mean, Nadia did a double tuck at American Cup earlier that year. And that wasn’t the first either. It had been a thing for a few years already, just not at naming competitions.

Naming skills after not-technically-the-first-person happens all the time now, in the moment, when you need to submit the skill for valuation and entry into the code because you’re going to do it at worlds. But going back and doing that decades and decades later is a different thing. You didn’t need to submit the double tuck. It was there.

Double back stretch-pike – 1978 World Championships

This may be my favorite Nellification of all because THIS SKILL ISN’T EVEN IN THE CODE. It has no skill number. It has no value. You can’t do it anymore for credit, just like all the other multi-shape saltos on floor or multi-shape bars dismounts that have long since been removed from the code and their names scrubbed.

And yet in 2013, Nellie decided to go back and add it for herself specifically on the named skill list even without a corresponding skill number that it refers to. Legend.


12 thoughts on “The Kims”

  1. This, in conjunction with the latest GymCastic episode, is legend.

  2. I mean, we are talking about the woman who gave Shushunova a 10.0 on vault before her arms even stopped windmilling in the 1988 AA. What can we expect. That said, she did the right thing with Ally’s beam score in the 2012 finals.

    1. That’s debatable. Raisman really didn’t connect her turns, but perhaps with 2012 judging it gets the benefit of the doubt.

      Let’s also not forget the 10 Nellie gave Bogi on UB during Barcelona AA.

  3. Her Wikipedia page proudly says “Her judging license was suspended by the FIG for a while only once” – ONLY ONCE!!! “- after the 1990 World Cup due to allegations of cheating and fixing scores.”

  4. I had no idea she was doing this, but I’m not surprised. After her weak sauce reverse “layout” dismount off beam was upgraded to a D, I became suspicious she might have quite the ego.

  5. YASSSSSS Finally an entire post about shading Nellie Kim. My dream. Thank you so much.

    I do wish the side aerial to back tuck dismount on beam was a thing people still attempted. It looks ridiculously difficult but also amazing. Also, it’s only an E in the code I think? Definitely should be at least an F.

    1. In previous codes (I think as recent as the 2013-16 code) it was only a D. In my opinion it should be a G. Generating a double salto from what’s effectively a one foot take off is extremely difficult.

  6. “so I don’t know if she has a leg to stand on there. Shaposhnikova definitely doesn’t after that vault.”

  7. Regardless of who gets the credit, the fact that they were trying those vaults on the old horse with the stiff wooden spring board is still impressive!

  8. This is why I was sad when Donatella took over for her. I will miss her excessive pettiness.

  9. I’m completely obsessed with how she raises her arms after each pass on FX. It’s like, “ta-da! Gymnastics!!” But then her actual post-routine salute is just, “correct, I’m awesome, bye now.” Adore.

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