Gymnasts Like Simone Biles Know the Slightest Risk of Mental Disturbance


Before Elena Mukhina broke her neck doing the Thomas salto, so dangerous that it is now banned, she told her trainer she would break her neck doing the Thomas salto.

But her coach responded with disdain, saying that people like her don’t break their necks and that she doesn’t think Mukhina, the 20-year-old Soviet gymnast, could refuse. Also, later remembered An interview with the Russian magazine OgoniyokAs the anointed star of the upcoming Olympic Games, he knew what the public expected of him.

“I wanted to justify the trust placed in me and be a hero,” he said.

Less than a month before the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Mukhina insufficiently turned Thomas salto and landed on her chin. He was permanently paralyzed and died in 2006, at the age of 46, from complications of quadriplegia. After his injury, he told Ogoniok that fans asked him when he would race again.

“Fans were trained to believe in the heroism of athletes – athletes with fractures return to the football field, and those with concussions to the ice rink,” he said. “Why?”

The history of women’s gymnastics is littered with the bodies of athletes like Mukhina who suffered life-altering or life-ending injuries after being pressured to try skills they knew they couldn’t do safely or to compete when they didn’t feel well. He. Simone Biles, who withdrew from the Olympic team final on Tuesday after being disoriented in the middle of a vault and barely standing up, said she effectively refused to be another one.

Biles did not mention Mukhina. Nor did he mention 15-year-old American gymnast Julissa Gomez. who was paralyzed He died shortly before – and three years after – the 1988 Olympics as a result of a vault that he never reliably performed, but which his coaches said he had to do if he wanted to be competitive. Biles didn’t have to mention Mukhina or Gomez. Their stories are infamous in the gymnastics world.

Gymnastics is inherently dangerous and gymnasts can be seriously injured even when they feel mentally strong. Adriana Duffy, a former Puerto Rican national champion, was paralyzed while training on the vault in 1989. Chinese gymnast Sang Lan suffered a similar injury In 1998, his coach was on the vault when he tried to adjust the position of the springboard as he ran towards him. Melanie Coleman, a college gymnast in Connecticut, died of a spinal cord injury in 2019 after her hands slipped off uneven bars during training.

Gymnasts accept this risk every day, but they also know what can increase the risk beyond a level they are comfortable with. Yet, until recently, it was extremely rare for any top gymnast to refuse to compete under these conditions.

After Biles withdrew, some critics compared her negatively to Kerri Strug, who – according to popular narrative – secured the gold medal for the United States at the 1996 Olympics by jumping on an injured ankle. The suggestion was that Biles should do the same for the team.

But Strug made the jump under pressure from his coach, hurting his ankle even more, and the USA would have won without him. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times shortly afterHe said he wouldn’t have done it had he known his safe wasn’t needed.

“Everybody was shouting at me, ‘Come on, you can do it,'” she said. “But there I say to myself: ‘My leg, my leg. you do not understand. Something is really wrong here.’”

Strug, who never raced again, sent a support message for Biles on Tuesday.

Dominique Moceanu, one of her teammates on the 1996 Olympic team, who was outspoken about the training practices used by former national team coordinators Bela and Marta Karolyi – tweeted a video clip From his own routine in the balance beam finale in these Games.

Moceanu’s foot slipped and crashed headlong into the beam as he did a somersault and another somersault. She hugged him, pulled herself up, and resumed her routine, then competed in the floor exercise final almost immediately afterward, without a spine exam. It didn’t occur to him to do otherwise.

Biles’ decision, Moceanu tweeted, “shows that we have a say over our own health – ‘a word’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian.”


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