A day like today but 10 years ago the gymnastics world lost Yelena Mukhina at the age of 46. Born on June 1st 1960 Yelena rose to prominence at the 1977 European Championships where she medalled on all the events taking gold on bars, beam and floor as well as silver in the all-around and bronze on vault.
In 1978 Yelena made history by becoming World All-Around Champion ahead of her teammate 1976 Olympian Nellie Kim. She won a total of 5 medals in that competition taking gold with her team, in the all-around and on Floor as well as silver on beam and uneven bars.
Yelena’s gymnastics were beyond her time, she had a double tuck dismount from the beam, a full twisting double back on the Floor Exercise and the signature move she’s mostly remembered for: a full twisting Korbut flip on uneven bars. The latter is currently a banned move in women’s gymnastics.
A year later she attended the 1979 European Championships where she took gold on Uneven Bars and silver in the Floor Exercise. That was the last major international competition she attended before sustaining the injury that changed her life.
Behind Yelena’s daring skills that amazed the world was her coach Mihail Klimenko who was the men’s coach and who wanted Yelena to do a skill done by the men, the Thomas Salto. Yelena, who at the time was recovering from a broken leg, landed on her chin while training the skill, days before the start of the 1980 Olympic Games, changing her life forever as she was left quadriplegic at the age of 20.
Despite the fact the skill was very dangerous it was later competed by Yelena Shushunova from 1985 till 1988, Soviet gymnast Tatiana Ignatova competed it briefly in 1992 and He Xuemei presented the skill at the 1992 Olympic Games, 12 years after Yelena’s accident. It was finally banned, for the women, in the early 90s however the skill is still done by the men even though there have been repeated claims to ban the skill for them too.
Following her accident, she was awarded the Olympic Order by then International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch. Yelena resided in Moscow until her death on December 22nd 2006.
Yelena Mukhina was extremely talented as she could deliver immensely difficult skills but always with a touch of elegance and artistry, a combination few gymnasts have achieved, and for that, she will always be remembered.