Simone Biles, the golden girl of Team USA, pulled out of the 2021 Olympics this week. This brings us back to the story of Elena Mukhina, the gymnast who was not given a chance to say “no” like Biles. What’s her story?
Elena Mukhina was a Soviet gymnastics star until her unfortunate accident in 1979. Her coach pressured her to make a dangerous move when she was not ready. As a result, she broke her neck, leaving her paralyzed.
Who is Elena Mukhina?
Elena Vyacheslavovna Mukhina was born on June 1, 1960, in Moscow, Russia. She was orphaned at the age of 5 and was raised by her grandmother – Anna Ivanovna.
Mukhina took an interest in figure skating and gymnastics at a very early age. First, she was discovered by an athletic scout in her school, and then she later joined the CSKA Moscow Sports Club.
Soviet coaches did not really notice her until 1975 when Mukhina started training with men’s coaches. Then, her training under Mikhail Klimenko truly transformed her from being unremarkable to one of the most show-stopping gymnasts of her generation.
Mukhina made her mark in history by showing off her signature moves; a full-twist layout Korbut Flip on the bars, a tucked double back salto dismount on the beam, and a full-twisting double back.
She was a force to be reckoned with. Yet, despite her innovations in gymnastics, she managed to keep the classic Soviet-style heavily influenced by ballet.
By the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, she was the athlete to watch for. (Source: Fam People)
How Did She Get Injured?
Mukhina was known for her floor routine; back then, it was revolutionary and way ahead of her time. They even named the never-seen combinations after her.
In 1979, her coach wanted her to be one of the few female gymnasts that could take elements from the men’s division. She was training to do the Thomas salto. This movement was a 1 and 3/4 flip with 1 1/2 twists ending in a forward roll. This move was perfected by the American gymnast Kurt Thomas.
Higher-ranking Soviet coaches and her own coach pressured her to do the stunt. However, she eventually realized that the move was extremely dangerous for a woman because it highly depended on reaching a certain height and speed to make all the flips and twists.
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 just replied people like me don’t break their necks.Elena Mukhina
Mukhina was training for the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships when she broke her leg. The doctors of the national team rushed her back into training before her leg completely healed. She continued training in poor condition, that when she tried the Thomas Salto, she under-rotated and landed on her chin, causing her spine to snap. (Source: Fam People)
Did Mukhina Ever Recover?
Unfortunately, she was left paralyzed after her injury. Her career as a gymnast ended as soon as it started. She passed away due to complications of her quadriplegia on December 22, 2006, at 46. (Source: Fam People)