Elen Mukhina took an interest in gymnastics and figure skating at an early age….when an athletic scout visited her school….to which she eagerly volunteered to try out for gymnastics. She later joined the CSKA Moscow (“Central Red Army”) sports club. In recognition of her accomplishments, Mukhina was inducted into the CSKA Hall of Fame.
Up until 1975, Mukhina was an unremarkable gymnast….and Soviet coaches largely ignored her….then, two separate incidents brought her skills to the forefront for the Soviet team….as Romanian domination of the Soviet gymnastics machine at the 1976 Olympics….for which the director for Soviet women’s gymnastics, Larisa Latynina, was blamed….to which Latynina’s responded was, “it’s not my fault that Nadia Comăneci was born in Romania”….along with Mukhina’s transition to working with men’s coach Mikhail Klimenko….who transformed her into one of the most show-stopping gymnasts of her time.
She burst onto the scene at the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, France….in one of the most stunning all-around performances in history….as she won the gold medal by beating out Olympic Champions Nadia Comăneci….and top-ranked Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim, among others…..plus, she also tied for the gold medal in the floor exercise event final….in addition to winning the silver in balance beam and uneven bars. She made history in this competition by unveiling her signature moves: a full-twisting layout Korbut Flip on bars….which is a tucked double back salto dismount on beam…for this was a move that is still being used over three decades later…..and a full-twisting double back somersault on floor….as it still rated an E-rated move in the Code of Points dubbed the “Muchina”. Yet, in spite of these innovations, Mukhina maintained the classic Soviet style….which was inspired by ballet movements and expressive lines. She quickly established herself as an athlete to watch for at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.
Her career was on the rise and she was widely touted as the next great gymnastics star until 1979 when a broken leg left her out of several competitions, and the recovery from that injury combined with pressure to master a dangerous and difficult tumbling move the Thomas salto caused her to break her neck just two weeks before the opening of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games…..which left her permanently quadriplegic just one month past the age of 20.
A documentary film of the Soviet national team (1978) features Mukhina talking with her coach, Mikhail Klimenko, and footage of her rigorous training regimen…..for we here at ImaSportsphile are so blessed to have the Elena Mukhina footage that we have in our library…..as they are “nuggets of gold” in our treasure chest of vintage memories…..and since we get lots of comments on our nearly 5000 videos posted….we can say for a fact that Elena Mukhina was a beloved person, not just a world class athlete…. cuz we have had some really kind and heartfelt comments expressing love and appreciation for her by folks who sincerely expressed their gratitude for this footage.