Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Complete Gymnast

As the gymnasts prepare for the London Olympics, one cannot help but imagine how exhausted they will all be as their coaches push them to go their elements 'one more time.'  The beautiful Elena Mukhina was on her way to the Olympics in 1980 while recovering from a broken leg.  Her dominating performance at the 1978 World Championships included skills so far ahead of her time that Liu Xuan used her beam dismount to win the Olympic Games 22 years later.  Mukhina's floor mount was performed on a primitive floor mat.

Mukhina was a gymnast with power, grace, elegance and style.  She proved that one gymnast could have it all.

With so much talk about the revelation of injuries or cheating being ''good for the sport," one needs to always remember the potential reality of the sport that far exceeds a torn achilles tendon.  The rhetoric used by her coaches to manipulate her into performing the additional element is not any different from that used today.  Like many of you, I learned much gymnastics by watching ABC's Gymnastics Greatest Stars home video.  I've forever been captivated and haunted by the segment on Mukhina and Kathy Johnson Clarke's immortal words, "Today, Elena Mukhina is paralyzed" against the black-and-white shot of her waving to the crowd at the 1978 Worlds.

When one watches their training conditions, it is amazing that more gymnasts were not hurt in this way (or aren't.)

Mukhina and her teammates training in 1978.

Mukhina performing compulsories with a leg injury that gave out just before the 1979 World Championships and left her in a scramble to return to form for the Olympic Games.  With the pressure of being a gymnast from the host country, one can only imagine that extra strain put on Mukhina that pushed her past her breaking point as she attempted to include a Thomas somersault into her floor routine.  Without her, the Soviets lost to their Romanian rivals at the 1979 World Championships.  It was considering an embarrassing defeat, one they would simply not allow to repeat itself on home soil in front of the eyes of the world.

The world was so eagerly awaiting Mukhina's return to gymnastics in Moscow that Yuri Titov attempted to deceive the press about her injury, as rumors had surrounded the Olympic Games that she had died in training.

Mukhina: Triumph of the Spirit

Fantastic documentary featuring Mukhina discussing the training accident and injury that left her paralyzed.

The shocking reality of Mukhina's life with shots of Khorkina at her funeral.

RIP Elena Mukhina.  You are not forgotten.

European Championships: 4 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze
World Championships: 3 Gold, 2 Silver
World Cup: 2 Gold


  1. EM was truly the complete package, at a time when gymnasts did not have the advantages they do now - extra-springy floors, padded beams, actual springboards, etc.

  2. I wish I was able to understand Russian since I had to guess at most of what ws going on. Thank you for posting this.

  3. Never forgotten Elena.

  4. What those despicable Soviet coaches did to this beautiful, soulful, remarkable girl is revolting. She pleaded with her coaches not to make her include the Thomas Salto move. She told them she feared she would break her neck. When she did break her neck, the Soviets said that it was Elena who had felt compelled to include the move, which they added was beyond her ability. Disgusting to the end. And isn't it sad that Elena later said that her first thought as she lay on the floor paralyzed was, "Thank God I won't have to go to the Olympics." Quite a testament to the abuse she suffered in this sport. I can only have peace in the knowledge that these evil men who caused Elena's suffering will not escape the righteous, holy, and just God! And I also find relief in the knowledge that Elena herself, who put her faith in Christ, is at long last with Him now. Her days of suffering are OVER.