Two-time golden medalist in the Olympic Games of Helsinki (1952), Hrant Shahinian was the first Armenian in modern Olympic history to win a medal.
He was born on July 30, 1923, in the village of Gyulagarak (Lori). In 1930, his family moved to Yerevan. He began studying gymnastics with Harutiun Gargaloyan after moving to Yerevan. In 1939, he became the undisputed junior champion of the Soviet Union.
In 1943, at the age of twenty, Shahinian volunteered to fight in World War II and was wounded in a leg. He had to walk with a stick afterwards, but he underwent treatment in 1946 and, through much hard work, he was able to become a member of the Soviet national team in Artistic Gymnastics.
As a member of the team, Shahinian competed at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki (Finland). The Soviet team won the team all-around gold medal. Afterwards Shahinian competed in the individual all-around, where he won the silver medal, coming in second to Viktor Chukarin, who was the most decorated participant of the 1952 Olympics. The Armenian gymnast could not best Chukarin in the pommel horse either. He tied in second with Yevgeny Korolkov, resulting in two silver medalists. Shahinian came in fourth place in the parallel bars. He scored higher than Chukarin and the rest of the participants in still rings to win the gold medal of the event and become Olympic champion. In the same year, he became Emeritus Master of Sports of the USSR (1952).
Two years later, Shahinian became world champion in the pommel horse by winning the gold medal at the 1954 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and the Soviet team won the gold medal in the team all-around once again. Shahinian also won a bronze medal in the individual all-around.
In 1958, he founded the Youth Gymnastic Olympic Sports School in Yerevan and became the director of the sports school. He earned the titles of Emeritus Coach of Armenia in 1961 and Emeritus Worker of Physical Culture and Sports of Armenia in 1966. He chaired the Sports Committee of Armenia from 1967 and 1969, and was its deputy chairman from 1969 to 1975.
From 1975 to1980, Shahinian managed the Syrian gymnastics team in Damascus. He later returned to Armenia and lived there until his death on May 29, 1996. During an interview in his last years, Shahinian highlighted the level of success of Armenians in the Olympics in the following terms:
“Armenian sportsmen had to outdo their opponents by several notches for the shot at being accepted into any Soviet team. But those difficulties notwithstanding, 90 percent of Armenian athletes on Soviet Olympic teams came back with medals.”
Shahinian’s statue was erected in 2014 at the entrance of the Hrant Shahinyan gymnastics school of Yerevan.