Whatever Happened to
Elena Shushunova?

For a thorough listing of Shushunova's competitive results,
please visit
Gymn Forum's Shushunova biography

1985 Soviet World Team. L to R: Mostepanova, Kolesnikova, Yurchenko, Shushunova, Baraksanova, Omelianchik.
Photo used with the expressed permission of Tom Theobald.

Elena Shushunova was a dominant force on the Soviet women's gymnastics team for two quadrennia - an extraordinary accomplishment considering the depth of Soviet gymnastics in the 1980s. 

Shushunova, a native of St. Petersburgh, began gymnastics at the Central Army Club gym at age 7. She didn't fit the traditional mold of a Soviet gymnast. Coach Viktor Gavrichenko reflected to the Russian press, "[she was] short, inconspicuous...other girls seemed like better materials for gymnasts in terms of their lines, their proportions...." Fortunately, Gavrichenko had faith in Shushunova, having "sensed an inner strength and a hidden wealth of emotion."

Shushunova impressed leading up to the 1984 Olympics, enough to earn a spot on the Soviet's Olympic team. Unfortunately, she was one of many athletes who suffered greatly from the Soviet's boycott of these Games. Indeed, at the 1984 Alternate Games (Olomouc), Shushunova placed third overall.

Shushunova was the only gymnast from her Soviet team that was able to continue in gymnastics to represent the Soviets at the 1988 Olympics. But the years in between brought many victories, most notably at the 1985 Worlds. An early mistake on bars in the team event seemed to spell the end of these World Championships for Shushunova, however head coach Andrei Rodionenko decided to pull teammates Olga Mostepanova and Irina Baraksanova from the AA in favour of Shushunova and Omelianchik. "I don't know which emotion was stronger then," recalled Elena to Russian Press.  "Happiness that I would be performing again or guilt towards Olga and Irina who found themselves on the sidelines because of me." Shushunova and Omelianchik made the most of their second chances, tying as 1985 World co-champions.

The team leader, Shushunova helped the Soviets win the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics and then victoriously battled with Daniela Silivas in a head-to-head competition for the AA crown. Never as artistic or popular as Silivas, Shushunova strength rested in her power and on that day, the judged deemed her performances superior (although the results are passionately debated among gym fans).

Following the Olympics, Shushunova planned to continue competing in gymnastics, but retired after a couple of months, exhausted from the Olympic year. She enrolled in a sports school with the aim of becoming a coach, but soon thereafter suffered a car accident that changed her life. Although not seriously injured by the accident, she quickly fell in love with the mechanic to whom she brought her car for repairs. In later years, Shushunova has joked that only married her husband so that she would not have to pay to get her car repaired! (Incidentally, Shushunova never received the apartment that was promised to her and her family by the Soviet state as reward for her accomplishments.)

In 1991, Shushunova was invited to compete in the first World Professional Championships. Far superior to professional events of more recent years, the 1991 event featured a comparatively high level of difficulty and many international stars: Natalia Yurchenko, Valentin Mogilny, Brandy Johnson, Vladimir Artemov, Artur Akopian, Tong Fei, Diana Dudeva, etc.

Around 1992, Shushunova gave birth to her one and only child, a son named Mikhail. According to an interview conducted by Sport-Ekspress (and translated and available on Vladimir Gurov's Russian Gymnastics site), soon after her son's birth, Shushunova volunteered to help organize events for the 1994 Goodwill Games, which were held in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia. Since then, she has worked for the city's sports committee.

Photo used with the expressed permission of Edwin Koppers of OEG

Concurrently, Shushunova and fellow Soviet stars Yuri Korolev and Tatiana Drutchinina tried to introduce the Russian public to the concept of gymnastic exhibition shows. Unable to secure proper financing, only two shows were ever performed. In December of 1996, Shushunova was reunited with Korolev (and fellow 1985 co-World Champion Oksana Omelianchik  at the Cup of Pinokkio competition in Novgorod, Russia. 

Most recently, Shushunova was a member of the 1998 European Championships' organizing committee. Held in her hometown, Shushunova presented some of the awards at this competition.

Update (April 2001). Shushunova joined many former Soviet and Russia team members at the recent 2001 Russian Championships. Retired gymnasts in attendance included Tatiana Frolova, Olga Mostepanova, Elena Shevchenko, Vera Kolesnikova, Elena Produnova, Anastasia Kolesnikova, and more.

Shushunova was born on May 23rd, 1969.

. This page was created on July 1, 1999 and last updated October 2001.

 

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