Contrary to wonko's point, Gagarin was not just a random guy. While his mission was in fact the human equivalent to that of Belka and Strelka, i.e. staying alive during and after the flight, he had been carefully picked out of many. The man for the job had to be in perfect health, have rock-solid mental condition, endurance against extra/zero G's and mid-air experience — man, he had to bail out from the reentry capsule and descend on a parachute by himself! Gagarin was an Air Force Lieutenant (he had been promoted to a Major during his 108-minute space flight). The amount of training that he passed would make Dennis Tito look like a chicken (not that he doesn't already).
What really made the mission planners to select Yuri among the group of prospective cosmonauts, was his modest constitution and low weight. Another reason was his rather pleasant appearance: this smile had become a weapon of Soviet propaganda for decades.
Anyway, I get a piloerection and wet eyes each time I hear that noisy record...
<Mission Control>: "Piat'... Chetyre... Tri... Dva... Odin... PUSK!"
(noise blasts away)
<Gagarin>: "Poyehali!" (Let's ride!)
My dad was an 11 year old Soviet boy in 1961. He still remembers where he was when
the radio broken news ("This is Moscow. Every radio station in the Soviet Union is on line."
) about the man in space. People were rejoicing
and hugging each other on the streets.