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Originally dismissed as a low ranking prospect with no future, and considered too old to achieve breakout success, Elena Mukhina accomplished exactly that. Her result at the 1978 World Championships remains statistically one of the greatest performances of all time.
In an era where Soviet officials were furious at the underperformance of Moscow clubs in domestic competitions and the triumph of Romania’s Nadia Comaneci in international competition, Elena Mukhina appeared to be the answer to both problems. Mukhina was the first gymnast to beat Nadia bringing her reign of dominance to an end. Mukhina was also born and raised in Moscow. With the 1980 Moscow Olympics rapidly approaching, the Soviets envisioned a hometown hero being the star of those games.
After age, injury, and fatigue started slowing Mukhina down, the Soviet program continued to push Mukhina beyond her limits in a longshot attempt to bring Mukhina back to her old form. The closer the 1980 Olympics drew near, the more the pressure intensified. Two weeks before the Olympics and one month after celebrating her 20th birthday, Elena Mukhina was paralyzed from the next down in a training accident. The injury would lead to her premature death at the age of 46. Mukhina should have gone down in history for having one of the most incredible careers the sport had ever seen. But she is instead remembered more for her tragic demise rather than her unlikely rise from complete unknown to World Champion.
World Championships & Olympic Competition:
Schoolchildren’s Spartakiade: 1st AA
All-Union School Spartakiade: 1st AA, 1st VT, 1st FX
Jr. USSR Championships: 1st AA, 1st UB, 2nd BB, 1st FX
URS-TCH Dual Meet: 1st Team, 5th VT, 5th FX
USSR Championships: 8th AA
USSR Cup: 12th AA
All-Union Youth Sports Games: 3rd Team, 1st UB, 1st FX
European Championships: 2nd AA, 3rd VT, 1st UB, 1st BB, 1st FX
Moscow News: 3rd AA, 5th VT,4th UB, 3rd FX
Paris Grand Prix: 11th AA, 1st VT, 2nd UB
USSR Championships: 2nd AA, 3rd UB, 1st FX
USSR Cup: 1st AA
World Cup: 5th AA, 1st UB, 1st BB
Moscow News: 1st AA, 3rd VT, 1st UB, 2nd BB, 1st FX
USSR Championships: 1st AA, 1st UB, 5th BB, 3rd FX
USSR Cup: 4th AA
World Championships: 1st Team, 1st AA, 2nd UB, 2nd BB, 1st FX,
European Championships: 4th AA, 4th VT, 1st UB, 2nd FX
USSR Championships: 14th AA, 5th VT, 1st UB
USSR Spartakiade: 18th AA
USSR Cup: 14th AA
Articles Featuring Elena Mukhina:
After Her Injury a Soviet Coverup Hurt Elena Mukhina Even More
How Fan Mail Bothered Elena Mukhina
Elena Mukhina’s Trip to America
Shortly After Her Paralysis Elena Mukhina Wrote a Letter
Would Elena Mukhina Have Made the Olympic Team if Not For Her Paralyzing Injury?
The Elena Mukhina Tapes
Gymnasts Who Wore Elena Mukhina’s Leotard
The Unlikely Gymnast and the Unlikely Coach (Part I)
The Unlikely Gymnast and the Unlikely Coach (Part II)
Results are taken from Score for Score, The Gymternet, GymnastcGreats, Gymn-Forum, the official websites of various national gymnastics federations, newspaper clippings, classic gymnastics magazines, and in some cases, were provided by the gymnasts themselves. An explanation for the meaning of these symbols can be found here.