Elena Mukhina
Russian artistic gymnast
Elena Mukhina
Elena Vyacheslavovna Mukhina, born in Moscow, Russian SFSR, was a former Soviet gymnast who won the All-Around title at the 1978 World Championships at Strasbourg, France.
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    FORTIES
  • 2006
    Age 45
    As a memorial to one of the greatest Soviet-era gymnasts ever, the biggest sports newspaper in Russia, Sovietskij SPORT, dedicated the cover of their Christmas 2006 issue to her.
    More Details Hide Details A memorial service was held in her honor on December 27, and she was buried at the Troekourov Cemetery in Moscow.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1990
    Age 29
    Her injury was a featured topic in the 1990 A&E documentary More Than a Game; and her World Championship performance is captured in the ABC Sports video Gymnastics' Greatest Stars.
    More Details Hide Details Mukhina took a keen interest in children and young gymnasts both before and after her injury. She also expressed a deep religious faith, and was fond of horses and animated cartoons. Mukhina was thankful to her former teammates who kept in touch with her, especially Yelena Davydova, whom she described as "A real friend". Mukhina died of apparent complications from quadriplegia on.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1980
    Age 19
    There was little doubt that the Soviet Olympic women's gymnastics team would get the gold medal in the team competition at the 1980 Summer Olympics, as it did at all previous Olympics.
    More Details Hide Details Nevertheless, Klimenko had desperately wanted Mukhina to make the Olympic team roster because he wanted to become the "Olympic champion's trainer." Soon after Mukhina's paralytic injury, Klimenko emigrated to Italy, where he lived with his children until his death from cancer on November 14, 2007, his 65th birthday. After Mukhina's paralysis and several other close calls with other Olympic-eligible female gymnasts, the Thomas salto has been removed from the Code of Points as an allowed skill for women. It remains an allowed skill for men as of 2013. Her condition notwithstanding, Mukhina was a guest columnist for Moscow News in the late 1980s.
    Because of her devastating injury, Mukhina could not be added to the 1980 Soviet Olympic team roster.
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    The Soviet Union awarded her Order of the Badge of Honour in 1980 in response to her injury, and then in 1982 or 1983, Juan Samaranch, the IOC President, awarded her the Silver Medal of the Olympic Order.
    More Details Hide Details Following the injury, the Soviet Gymnastics Federation remained secretive about the events surrounding Mukhina's cataclysmic injury, with Soviet Team Coach Yuri Titov as the point man discouraging reporters' questions by playing coy regarding Mukhina's condition and deflecting inquiries about whether she would be trying for a comeback in 1984, even blaming Mukhina's "injury" on attempting a skill that she "was not able to do but thought she needed to make the teamshe suffered injury and missed her chance. All the bad stories, they are not true." Meanwhile, as word spread among the Olympic community that Mukhina's injuries were far worse than the Soviet spokesmen were saying, coaches all over the world wondered not only what the specific injury was, but how the accident had happened. Initial rumors were that she had fallen on approach to the vault, then Soviet newspapers reported she had fallen during her dismount from the balance beam and had a blackout but then got back up to finish her floor exercise without knowing how badly she had been injured, then finally word emerged that she had fallen catastrophically during the floor exercise. Mukhina became reclusive following the accident, and rarely discussed it publicly. In one of her few interviews about the accident, published in Ogonyok magazine, she criticized the Soviet gymnastics program for deceiving the public about her injury, and for the system's insatiable desire for gold medals and championships:
    On July 3, 1980, two weeks before the Moscow Olympics, Mukhina was practicing the pass containing the Thomas salto when she under-rotated the salto and crash-landed on her chin, snapping her spine.
    More Details Hide Details She was instantly rendered a quadriplegic. Mukhina was training at the Minsk Palace of Sport when the injury occurred; her coach Klimenko was not present at the time of the accident.
    With less than a year until the 1980 Summer Olympics to be held in Moscow, the pressure was on the Soviet team coaches and doctors to get the previous All Around champion Mukhina back on her feet and ready for the games.
    More Details Hide Details In an interview with Ogonyok magazine, Mukhina blamed the doctors at TsITO (Central Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedics) who were serving the National Team for attempting to rush her back into training too soon, saying she begged them not to remove her cast and discharge her because "they're dragging me from home to workouts" and she knew she was not yet healed. When doctors removed her cast against her wishes and had her try walking on the leg, she said that she knew she was walking "crookedly" and that something was not right. The TsITO doctors X-rayed the leg and discovered that the fracture had not healed properly and would not be able to sustain the pounding of gymnastics in its present condition. Mukhina was rushed into surgery that afternoon, but the damage had already been done to her reputation; one of the National Team coaches, she said in the Ogonyok interview, showed up at her bed the day after surgery and outright stated that she "wasn't conscientious" and that she could still "train in a cast". Once more against her wishes, the doctors removed her cast prematurely, and Mukhina returned to training for the Olympics while beginning a strenuous workout program at CSKA Moscow to lose the weight she had gained while laid up from surgery.
  • 1979
    Age 18
    In 1979, while training for the 1979 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, Mukhina suffered a broken leg, which kept her out of the World Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, a competition in which the Soviet team suffered its first defeat at the hands of their archrivals from Romania, with only Nellie Kim and Stella Zakharova able to medal in apparatus and All Around disciplines.
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  • 1978
    Age 17
    Even though she won the All Around title and floor exercises at the 1978 world championship with daring bar routines, a revolutionary balance beam dismount, and a floor routine with its own signature move, she was pressured to add this element to her floor exercises by her own coach and other higher-ranking Soviet coaches.
    More Details Hide Details Mukhina soon realized the Thomas salto was extremely dangerous for a woman because it depended on being able to get enough height and speed to make all the flips and mid-air twists and still land in-bounds with enough room to do the forward roll, and it took near-perfect timing to avoid either under-rotation (and landing on the chin) or over-rotation (and landing on the back of the head). In the 1991 documentary More than a Game, Mukhina spoke of trying to convince her coach that the Thomas salto was a dangerous element:
    She burst onto the scene at the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, France.
    More Details Hide Details In one of the most stunning all-around performances in history, she won the gold medal, beating out Olympic Champions Nadia Comăneci and top-ranked Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim, among others. She also tied for the gold medal in the floor exercise event final, as well as winning the silver in balance beam and uneven bars. She made history in this competition by unveiling her signature moves: a full-twisting layout Korbut Flip on bars; a tucked double back salto dismount on beam (a move that is still being used over three decades later); and a full-twisting double back somersault on floor (still an E-rated move in the Code of Points) dubbed the "Muchina". Yet, in spite of these innovations, Mukhina maintained the classic Soviet style, inspired by ballet movements and expressive lines. She quickly established herself as an athlete to watch for at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.
  • 1976
    Age 15
    Then, two separate incidents brought her skills to the forefront for the Soviet team: Romanian domination of the Soviet gymnastics machine at the 1976 Olympics (for which the director for Soviet women's gymnastics, Larisa Latynina, was blamed; Latynina's response was, "it's not my fault that Nadia Comăneci was born in Romania"); and Mukhina's transition to working with men's coach Mikhail Klimenko, who transformed her into one of the most show-stopping gymnasts of her time.
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  • 1975
    Age 14
    Up until 1975, Mukhina was an unremarkable gymnast, and Soviet coaches largely ignored her.
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  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1960
    Born
    Born on June 1, 1960.
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