In These Olympic Times
Looking at sports like gymnastic and swimming from the London Olympics, where we have seen many very young female athletes have taken medals – makes me wonder how the lives of these young people are. They come from China, South and North Korea, Russia, Romania and other countries. They are young and very well trained. The gymnasts are usually best in age from 14-15 up to 18-19.
My thoughts go to a talented gymnasts a few decades back. Yelena Mukhina was one of the best gymnasts in the late 1970s. Yelena was born in Moscow (Soviet Union) on June 1, 1960. She lost both her parents at the age of five and grew up with her grandmother. She caught an early interest in gymnastic, and one day a gymnastics coach turned up in the classroom and asked if there were any girls who wanted to be a gymnast. “I nearly cried with happiness,” she later recalled.
In 1974 she began to train under Mikhail Klimenko, who had been trainer for the Soviet Union’s male gymnasts. This collaboration was a success, and in 1976 she became junior champion in the Soviet Union a title that rank very high. In 1977 she had her breakthrough and she became second in the European Championship after Nadia Comaneci of Romania. She took three individual gold medals.
Yelena was the big star at the World Championships in Strasbourg in 1978. She took a medal in five individual events and won the overall title. She impressed with the difficult, highly sophisticated and dangerous elements. In 1979 she received a setback after a bone fracture. She started training too early before the fracture was healed – probably under pressure from the Soviet leadership – which resulted in a surgery.
July 3, 1980 Yelena Mukhina was in training camp in Minsk during the preparation for the Olympics in Moscow. She was attempting a Thomas salto (full-twisting 1 3/4 tumbling pass) on floor exercise When She Came up short. She landed on her chin and snapped in spine, leaving here a partial quadriplegic for the rest of her life. At the age of 20
Mukhina rarely gave interviews. In the few interviews she gave, she criticized the Soviet sports system and those who were involved in her training. She repeated several times that her fatal accident was inevitable because of the conditions she trained under – exhausted and injured. The demands were tough. In an interview in 1988 she said: “I was injured because everyone around me was observing neutrality and keeping silent. After all, they saw that I was not ready to perform that element. But they kept quiet.”
Yelena Mukhina died on 22 December 2006 – only 46 years old. Cause of death was apparent complications from quadriplegia. A memorial service was held in her honor on December 27, and she was buried at the Cemetery Troekourov in Moscow.
Yelena Mukhina is an athlete to remember in these days of Olympic Games in London 2012.