LOS ANGELES • Olga Korbut, the former gymnast and darling of the 1972 Munich Olympics who has apparently fallen on hard times, has sold her Games medals and other trophies through a United States auction house.
A total of 32 lots, including two golds and a silver from the Munich Olympics, fetched US$333,500 (S$467,171) in a weekend online sale by Heritage Auctions for the former Soviet gymnast who now lives in Arizona.
The top item was her team gold medal, which brought US$66,000 for the 61-year-old, a native Belarussian who moved to the United States in 1991.
Russia's Gazeta.ru news reported that she has had financial difficulties. From 1978 to 2000, Korbut was married to Leonid Bortkevich, a famous Soviet-era folk singer, with whom she moved to the US.
"Medals saved Korbut from hunger," said the Gazeta.ru headline, the BBC reported.
At 17, the 1.5 m Korbut made a giant impression across the globe at the Munich Games with electrifying routines that brought her team, balance beam and floor exercise golds and silver in the uneven bars.
Four years later, Korbut, who triggered an explosion of interest in gymnastics, added another gold and a silver at the Montreal Olympics.
Heritage Auctions' spokesman Chris Ivy said: "There is hardly a gymnast alive who doesn't credit this tiny force of nature (with) the explosion of the sport's popularity on a global level."
The Korbut Flip was a spectacular trick that she performed on the asymmetric bars - a trick now banned from the Olympics as it is considered too dangerous.
Korbut's groundbreaking displays in Munich were credited with widening the appeal of gymnastics around the world, with the diminutive Belarusian star known as the "Sparrow of Minsk" also changing the way athletes from behind the Iron Curtain were viewed.
Her captivating smile and quirky charm helped to turn her into an Olympic legend, noted the BBC.
Sale items included one of her performance leotards, her 1972 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award and various Soviet medals.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE