Burnsville gymnastics club has Olympic gold medal ties

BURNSVILLE, Minn. — One of the most famous Russian Olympians in history has called Minnesota home for many years, and you can trace the gold medal ties to a Burnsville gymnastics club.

At IGM Gymnastics Club, the sport's practice and precision has long been in Irina Kim's blood.

"She got gold. Five gold medals and one silver," said Irina Kim, of her older sister. "She is a star."

Nellie Kim, who is nine years older than Irina, made a legendary mark during the 1976 in Montreal and 1980 Olympics in Moscow. She was the first woman in Olympic history to earn a perfect 10 score on the vault and the floor, rivaling Nadia Comaneci.

Irina Kim wasn't exactly in her sister's shadow, also a nationally known Soviet gymnast. The sisters were born in Kazakhstan, where their mother is from. Their father is from Korea.

The Kim sisters later trained in Belarus, and eventually followed one of Nellie's coaches to Minnesota, where Irina Kim began training other gymnasts. When looking for Olympic potential, Irina Kim is not always scouting for talent. Irina Kim believes its hard work that gets the gold.

"There are lots of kids who didn't have Olympic potential but they are super hard workers. Most of them on national team. Those who were talented, born to be a gymnast, not necessarily end up in high level of gymnastics because it was so easy," she said.

Beyond gymnastics, several other Russian sports from hockey to ice skating have long made headlines too. Leo Grichener, owner of Zerkalo, Inc., publishes Minnesota's Russian newspaper and was a volunteer in the Moscow Olympics in 1980. After reporting on Russian athletes for years, he sees discipline and patriotism as the winning combination.

"We put a lot of time and energy to promote any sport," said Grichener. "It's a once in lifetime to go into Olympic game, we have to be first. Russia go, Russia, go, you know?"

Today, Nellie Kim travels worldwide as a judge for the International Gymnastics Federation and also judges the Olympics. She also serves as an adviser for IGM Gymnastics as well, and when she's not traveling internationally, calls Apple Valley home.

Irina Kim hopes future medalists will come from her Minnesota gym. If that seems impossible, consider the girl from a small town in Kazakhstan who unexpectedly landed in triumph.

"You can do it, the kids have to believe it," said Irina Kim. "It's important to work hard."


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