Olga Korbut on a balance beam during an exhibition in Philadelphia, US, in March 1973. Photograph: AP
Now 61 and living in Scottsdale, Arizona, Korbut, who was born in
Belarus, captivated audiences at the 1972 Games with a string of acrobatic performances hailed as both charismatic and technically brilliant.
Known as the Sparrow from Minsk, the 17-year-old just 4ft 11in (1.5 metres) tall and weighing 6 stone (38kg) won three golds and a silver, followed by another gold and silver in Montreal where she ran up against the Romanian prodigy Nadia Comneci.
The auction house said in
its sale publicity that Korbut single-handedly upended the stereotype of the Soviet athlete as a stone-faced automaton and there was hardly a gymnast alive who doesnt credit this tiny force of nature for the explosion of the sports popularity on a global level.
She pioneered a spectacular move on the asymmetric bars, a backflip from standing on top of the high bar to regrasp the bar, that
became known as the Korbut Flip. The move has now been outlawed from the Olympics as too dangerous.
From 1978 to 2000, Korbut was married to Leonid Bortkevich, a Belarusian folk singer, with whom she had a son, Richard, born in 1979. A naturalised US citizen, Korbut now teaches privately and celebrated the 40th anniversary of her Munich victories with an appearance at the 2012 London Olympics.