Olympic champion Yelena Naimushina has died at 52. Photograph: YouTube

Russia’s former gymnast Yelena Naimushina, who was a member of the 1980 Olympic gold-medal-winning Soviet team in Moscow, Russia, passed away last Tuesday at the age of 52.

Naimushina was born on 19 November 1964 in the village of Krasnoyarsk Krai, a region of Siberia north of Mongolia. She was born with heart issues and doctors recommended Naimushina’s mother to enrol her into gymnastics for her health. Naimushina started gymnastics at the age of five alongside her older sister, and by the time she was eight, she began to win regional competitions.

She emerged on the junior scene in the mid-1970s, as a hope for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Her coaches, Tatiana Tropnikova and Valentin Shevchuk, used to summon her in the gym at all times of day and night in order to perform and impress any prominent sports official who would happen to be in Krasnoyarsk.

Naimushina turned senior in 1978. The following year she finished second in the all around at the Champions All in London and sixth at the American Cup. She was also a member of the 1979 World Championship Soviet team, which was beaten by Romania for the first time in history.

In summer 1980, Naimushina was selected to represent the Soviet Union at the Olympic Games in Moscow. She joined a stellar team, which included Yelena Davydova, Maria Filatova, Nellie Kim, Natalia Shaposhnikova and Stella Zakharova. Naimushina and her teammates won the gold medal, and Naimushina was a strong contributor, finishing her Olympic Games experience with an excellent 9.950 on floor.

Yelena Naimushina performes her crowd-favourite 'Kalinka' floor routine.

After the Olympics, Naimushina competed a few times in 1981, but retired in 1982 due to a severe back injury and issues with her new coach. She graduated from the Krasnoyarsk State Pedagogical Institute in 1986, and then moved to Latvia with her husband, world junior cycling champion Andris Zelčs-Ločmelis, with whom she had three children. Following their divorce fifteen years later, she returned to Krasnoyarsk with her daughter, where she married Sergei Grigoryev.

Back in Russia, she began to work as a sports consultant, but without much success. ‘She had three children and decided to focus on the family, and not to think about a career’, her former coach Valentin Shevchuk said. ‘Later, when the children are grown, it's not easy to find yourself on the coaching path in elite sports.’

In a 2011 interview, Naimushina also explained that physical problems and health issues prevented her from being an active coach. ‘Of course I can't be a coach myself, [due] to injuries as a kid’, she argued. ‘And I'm not getting any younger. Coaches should not only be able to demonstrate an element or explain it on the fingers at least but also help support gymnasts when learning elements. All this is a pretty big physical activity. As a consultant, I can suggest something, of course. But in order to prepare a good gymnast, not to mention even five years of working with her, a lot more is required. Yes, and to focus only on the gym, throwing away everything in the world for it, I find it hard. Nor do I, in any case, have such a desire.’

Naimushina’s death was unexpected and a shock, according to Shevchuk. She will be remembered especially for her artistry, her big and warm smile on floor and her crowd-favourite ‘Kalinka’ floor routine. A memorial service for Naimushina is planned for today, Saturday 18 March, at Central Stadium in Krasnoyarsk. She will be buried at Badalyk Cemetery in Krasnoyarsk.

By Talitha Ilacqua


WOGymnastikA is a blog turned website which brings you the latest updates on women’s artistic gymnastics as well as exclusive interviews with your favorite gymnasts. If you are interested in joining our team, please contact us on wogymnastika@gmail.com .


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