Elena Mukhina (URS)

"The injury was inevitable" -- Elena Mukhina in the 1991 documentary "More than a Game"

Mukhina at the 1978 World Championships 
Screen grab courtesy of Digital Gymnastics

1977 European Championships: 2nd AA, 3rd V, 1st UB, 1st BB, 1st FX
1977 Moscow News: 3rd AA
1977 USSR Cup: 2nd AA, 3rd BB, 1st FX
1977 USSR Championships: 2nd AA
1977 World Cup: 5th AA, 1st UB, 1st BB
1978 Moscow News: 1st AA
1978 USSR Championships: 1st AA
1978 World Championships: 1st T, 1st AA, 2nd UB, 2nd BB, 1st FX
1979 European Championships: 4th AA, 4th V, 1st UB, 2nd FX
1979 USSR Championships: 14th AA

The majority of these results were compiled from information found at Gymn Forum

Elena Mukhina was a key member of the Soviet team of the late 1970s, winning the coveted AA crown at the 1978 World Championships. Soon afterwards, at a competition in 1979, Mukhina broke her leg. With the Olympics around the corner, Mukhina's coach wanted her back in the gym: he ordered that the cast be removed prematurely. Not having had the appropriate amount of time to heal, Mukhina's leg was noticeably crooked. Surgery was performed, but her coach ordered her back into the gym prematurely once again. Weak from the whole episode, Mukhina was never able to re-master a particular element (a Thomas Salto, or 1 and 3/4 salto with 1.5 turns) in one of her tumbling lines. A short time later, two weeks before the start of the 1980 Olympics, Mukhina fell during this tumbling line. The fall left Mukhina paralyzed from the neck down.

Mukhina and her coach, Klimenko 
Screen grab courtesy of Digital Gymnastics

Following the accident, very little news about Mukhina's condition came out of the Soviet Union. Coaches all of the world were left wondering how the injury occurred. Most people thought that she'd injured herself on vault, but word surfaced that she'd sustained the injury on the floor. Two years later, in 1982, the President of the International Olympic committee (I.O.C.), Juan Antonio Samaranch, awarded Mukhina an Olympic Order.

Mukhina grants a rare interview in 1991. 
Screen grab courtesy of Digital Gymnastics

Little is known about Mukhina's life following the Olympic Order. Several years later she granted the Russian magazine Ogonyok an exclusive interview. I believe that footage of this same interview is shown is the 1991 documentary, More than a Game. In this documentary, Mukhina painted a sad and painful picture of her life in gymnastics. "Apart from the gym and gymnastics, nothing existed. I didn't have the right to be ill. Problems outside sports simply did not exist," she explained. More frighteningly, she revealed:

...my injury could have been expected. It was an accident that could have been anticipated. It was inevitable. I had said more than once that I would break my neck doing that element. I had hurt myself badly several times but he [coach Mikhail Klimenko] just replied people like me don't break their necks.

Mukhina was a tremendous gymnast, one that will not go unforgotten.

Update (August 10, 2000). Mukhina continues to live in an apartment with her grandmother in Moscow. She has some mobility in her hands, although it is very limited. Fortunately, the government provides her with some physiotherapy. This year she was invited to be inducted into the Gymnastics Hall of Fame, however she turned down the trip to North America (concerned that her body would fare on the long flight).

Update (December 2006). Mukhina passed away December 22, 2006.

Mukhina was born on June 1st, 1960.

Vladimir Gurov's Russian Gymnastics Page has a fabulous interview with Mukhina. Be sure to check it out!

. This page was created on February 6, 1999 and last updated December 2006.


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