August 25, 2012

Old-School Gymnastics (Part 2)


So, I decided to do a Part 2 because I felt like I didn't completely explain the whole history of old-school gymnastics. In fact, one of my mom's co-worker made a comment about my post that definitely made me realize that I had only explained one side of old-school gymnastics. Here's a little part that she wrote in her comment:  

"...Today in gymnastics the coaches are much more in tune with the gymnast as a whole person, so there is less eating disorders, than in the past…"

And she is completely right.
The thing about gymnastics from the old days is that most of the time, it wasn't for fun, it was more like work. Now I don't know if this applied to all countries and coaches, but I know that the Soviet and Romanians had a pretty harsh system. They most likely trained for days on end, with little breaks and not much time for other activities. You've got to understand that before, the Olympics were seen as just another way to bring a little more victory to a person's respective countries. Often, the gymnasts didn't do it for themselves, they did it for their country. For the prestigious honor to bring more pride to their country. Yes, they do it nowadays too, but it was different then. A lot of times, coaches did not know the limits of their students. They did not try to interact or get to know them more, they just wanted their student to be the best. 

An example of a gymnast that got caught in the harsh gymnastics system is Elena Mukhina. She was an extremely talented gymnast that was at the height of her career in 1978. Sadly, in 1979, she broke her leg, and had to take a break from gymnastics for a while. Yet, with the 1980 Olympics fast approaching, her coach thought otherwise. He took her cast off prematurely, and she had surgery to fix her crooked leg, so that it would return to its normal, straight form. After the surgery, the coach yet again took off the cast prematurely. Obviously, Elena wasn't feeling that great with the pressure of her coach and her unhealed leg that took a toll on her body. Just 2 weeks before the Olympics, she broke her neck while performing a floor skill that she was having difficulty mastering even before she broke her leg. She became a quadriplegic at the age of 20, and died 26 years later from complications of her quadriplegia. This life-changing injury could've of been 100% avoided, if it weren't for her coach's constant demand for more. More difficulty, more practice, more perfection.

When I first read this story, I was literally heart-broken. She was such a beautiful, talented girl, and did not deserve to have her career- no, life- cut short because of that. And she was just so sweet and humble, as demonstrated in this excerpt from an interview for a Russian magazine:

"...for our country, athletic successes and victories have always meant somewhat more than even simply the prestige of the nation. They embodied (and embody) the correctness of the political path we have chosen, the advantages of the system, and they are becoming a symbol of superiority. Hence the demand for victory - at any price. As for risk, well... We've always placed a high value on risk, and a human life was worth little in comparison with the prestige of the nation; we've been taught to believe this since childhood.[...]There are such concepts as the honor of the club, the honor of the team, the honor of the national squad, the honor of the flag. They are words behind which the person isn't perceived. I'm not condemning anyone or blaming anyone for what happened to me. Not Klimenko (her coach at that time) or especially the national team coach at that time, Shaniyazov. I feel sorry for Klimenko - he's a victim of the system, a member of the clan of grownups who are 'doing their job.' Shaniyazov I simply don't respect. And the others? I was injured because everyone around me was observing neutrality and keeping silent. After all, they saw that I wasn't ready to perform that element. But they kept quiet. Nobody stopped a person who, forgetting everything, was tearing forward - go, go, go!"

Now, Elena's story is not the only story in the tragic history of gymnastics. There's Julissa Gomez, that was ultimately left in a catatonic state after missing the springboard and colliding on her neck with full speed on the vault. Now, this wasn't just a completely freak accident. Teammates and observers alike had noticed that Julissa had problems with the Yurchenko vault from earlier incidents, yet her coaches insisted that she had to continue practicing it in order to achieve higher scores.

And then there's Christy Henrich. When attending an international gymnastics meet, a judge bluntly told Christy that was too fat. In fact, even her coach had allegedly made insults on her weight and body size. Christy developed anorexia nervosa and died 5 years later at the age of 22.

Now, I'm not telling these stories to scare you. I simply want you to be more informed on what one part of gymnastics was like before. Nowadays, coaches are very much more aware of their students' capabilities, and gymnasts come in different shapes and sizes. The sport in itself is more healthy, more whole. We are more conscious of the dangers that gymnastics can bring, and several moves that were once performed in women's gymnastics are now banned, including the move that made Elena quadriplegic, the Thomas Salto.
So, from the artistic perspectives, I prefer old-school gymnastics, but from the perspective of the sport as a whole I definitely favor modern gymnastics. Well, if you have read up to here, I applaud you for going through all of my ranting and details and reports on different gymnasts. And, like I've said, the purpose of this post was not to scare you in any way, rather, it was to make you more knowledgeable in the sports of gymnastics, and to make you realize that there is not only one side to gymnastics.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post in some way or another, and here's a link to another great gymnastics montage video ^-^ 


  1. TT.TT that is the saddest stories ever! If I weren't such a robot I would be bawling! >.< But you're definitely right! Pressure going beyond is definitely not worthy enough for risk of death.

    1. Thank you for reading my post Delaney!


      P.S. Yes, I would be bawling too if it weren't for my inner robot ;)

  2. Oh my goodness, that is so sad and terrible for the gymnasts!! I never knew about that stuff before. Its a great post, and I am looking forward to your next one :)


    1. Thanks Anne! And I know, when I first read these stories, I was really shocked and saddened, but I'm still glad that I know about them now.

      -Grace :)


Hi! If you are here, I'm assuming that you've just read my post. If yes, don't hesitate on leaving a quick comment, I truly do appreciate each and every single one of them!

-Grace :)


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