Women’s gymnastics, a history lesson (And being haunted by the story of Elena Mukhina)

Two weekends ago I got sucked into watching women’s gymnastics videos on Youtube. I do this occasionally, but that weekend it was really bad. I spent hours watching videos. I have never taken gymnastics classes or lessons and I have absolutely no expertise in the sport. But I find it utterly fascinating, more than any other sport. I guess it’s the mix of talent, athleticism, but also emotions. 

In the process I learned about Věra Čáslavská the Czech gymnast that dominated in the 1960’s. I really like what her floor exercise looks like. The 1960’s had some really good looking routines. It was before gymnasts starting adding dangerous moves with lots of flips, so the routines just look impressive but not insane. I like this floor routine a lot:

You can watch her other routines as well, they are all good and highly entertaining. She makes the sport look really fun. 

Olga Korbut is a Russian gymnast who won floor and balance beam gold medal in the 1972 Olympics. But I think she was especially amazing on uneven bars. The Korbut flip is her famous move (and now banned on uneven bars.) Check out her Korbut flip at the 1972 Olympics. It happens right after she stands up on the top uneven bar:


I also learned about Elena Mukhina, the world champion in 1978. She was a promising champion Russian gymnast at a time right after Romania’s Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect 10 at the 1976 Olympics. Russia, typically an women’s gymnastics powerhouse, was determined to have an all-around gymnast victory in the 1980 Olympics. Mukhina was one of their promising stars.

The compilation video of her all-around championship routines from the 1978 Worlds is impressive. You may notice on her uneven bar routine she does the Korbut flip with a twist added to it. 


But her story after this is extremely tragic. She broke her leg in 1979 and was not able to fully recover from the injury before training for the 1980 Olympics. She was also pressured to learn extremely difficult tumbling moves like the Thomas Salto, which typically had only been done by men (who are able to gain more height on their jumps.) During a practice only two weeks before the Olympics, she landed on her chin, broke her neck and was a quadriplegic for the rest of her life until her death in 2006. This story seriously haunted me for a few days after learning about it. She was only 20 years old when this happened to her. She was even born on the exact same day as my Dad. 

I just wanted to share a few of these stories because I found them very interesting. Gymnastics is a beautiful sport. I think the pressure that world gymnasts face is much too intense, but you can’t deny that it is an amazing example of human athleticism. 


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