Albert Azaryan

3-Time Olympic Champion Azaryan Dies

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YEREVAN (news.am) — Three-time Olympic gymnastics champion, four-time world and two-time European champion Albert Azaryan has died at the age of 94, Gagik Vanoyan, President of the Gymnastics Federation of Armenia, informed about this on Facebook.

He was the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Champion on the still rings. Azaryan was the first gymnast to become an Olympic Champion in rings twice. He was the first person to do one of the rings most famous variations of the Iron Cross called the Azaryan Cross (not to be confused with the Azarian Roll to Cross), which incorporates a quarter turn to the side.

Albert Azaryan is one of the most revered athletes throughout Armenia. After winning Olympic gold medals in rings in 1956 and 1960, as a member of the USSR team, he was the flag bearer for Armenia at the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008. Azaryan’s childhood circumstances indirectly led to his success as one of the greatest ring men ever.

Ironically, politics led inevitably to one of Azaryan’s two original skills. At the 1953 USSR Championships, the Armenians sensed that they were being underscored. When the Armenian coach asked the judges, who were Russian, about his team’s low score on rings, he was told that his gymnasts were not holding their crosses for a full 3 seconds. Last up for his team on rings, an angry Azaryan had seen enough.

Albert Azaryan

When he lowered to his iron cross, he turned his head to face one of the judges and asked, “Is this long enough?” — all while holding a steady cross. He realized two more judges were sitting behind the rings, so he pressed up a bit, turned his body sideways, and lowered back down and repeated the question. The judges eventually gave him a low score. A gymnast is not permitted to speak during a routine, they said, and Armenia dropped from third to fifth as a team.

But Azaryan had definitely made his point. And his original skill became known as “The Azaryan” or the Olympic Cross.  At the 1954 World Championships in Rome, Azaryan introduced his second eponymous skill, the back roll from hang to iron cross.

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After retiring from competition, Azaryan became head of the Yerevan School of Gymnastics. He continues to serve the sport as the leader of the Armenian Gymnastics Federation. He and his wife had two daughters and a son, Eduard, who was on the 1980 gold medal winning USSR Olympic team, where he performed The Azaryan Cross in honor of his legendary father.

On December 1, 2022, the bust of the three-time Olympic champion was unveiled at the courtyard of the Albert Azaryan Children and Youth Gymnastics School in Yerevan.

(Material from the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame was used in this report.)

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