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Olympic Champion Naimushina Dies at 52
(11 votes, average 3.09 out of 5)

Russian Yelena Naimushina, a member of the gold medal-winning Soviet team at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, died Tuesday in Moscow. She was 52.

Russian Yelena Naimushina, a member of the gold medal-winning Soviet team at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, died Tuesday in Moscow. She was 52.

Naimushina was born on November 19, 1964, in the village of Askiz, in Krasnoyarsk Krai, a large region of Siberia north of Mongolia. Naimushina was born on a train as her mother went to the hospital. She was born with heart issues, and the doctor recommended to Naimushina's mother to bring her to gymnastics for her health. At age 5, Yelena Naimushina was brought to the children's sports school, part of the Krasnoyarsk State University, along with her 8-year-old sister. Within two years, Yelena was winning regional competitions.

Her first coach was Tatiana Tropnikova, who was later joined by Valentin Shevchuk, a Master of Sports in sports acrobatics. Tropnikova and Shevchuk (who eventually married) guided her throughout her career at Dinamo Krasnoyarsk. She emerged on the junior scene in the mid-1970s as a hope for the 1980 Olympics. She later recalled being summoned to the gym to show routines at all hours when any prominent sports official would arrive in Krasnoyarsk, a two-day train trip from Moscow. Once she had to perform at midnight; another time it was 4 a.m. Beam became her forté, despite one disastrous competition in Leningrad where she managed to fall 14 times from the apparatus. At a junior competition in Romania, she was instructed to fall off beam once by a Soviet official to placate their Romanian hosts, but stubbornly refused and won the event. In 1976, she won the Soviet junior championships in the Candidate for Master of Sports category. In 1977, she finished third all-around at the Soviet junior championships. In 1978, she won uneven bars at the Russian SFSR championships.

Remembered especially for her artistry and fan favorite "Kalinka" floor routine, Naimushina first joined the senior leagues in 1978, when she finished third all-around at the Soviet championships and second at the Chunichi Cup. The following year she was sixth all-around at the American Cup and second all-around at Champions All in London. She was a member of the Soviet team that took second at the 1979 World Championships after it was upset by the Romanian team for the first time. In 1980, she finished third all-around, first on beam and second on floor exercise at the Soviet championships.

That summer, the 15-year-old Naimushina helped the Soviet women win team gold at home in Moscow. The youngest member of the Olympic team, she was first up in the all-star lineup with teammates Yelena Davydova, Maria Filatova, Nellie Kim, Natalia Shaposhnikova and Stella Zakharova. She closed out the Olympics by scoring 9.95 for a brilliant floor routine. Later that year she competed at the World Cup in Canada, winning the gold medal on balance beam and silver medal on floor exercise.

Naimushina returned frequently to Krasnoyarsk, where a competition is held in her honor to mark her birthday each November.

Naimushina competed a few times in 1981 but retired in 1982 due to a serious back injury and conflict with the new Soviet coach. She graduated from Krasnoyarsk State Pedagogical Institute in 1986. She moved to Latvia with her husband, world junior cycling champion Andris Zelčs-Ločmelis, with whom she had three children: sons Toma and Filipp, and daughter Linda. The couple later divorced after 15 years and she returned to Krasnoyarsk with her daughter.

She remarried and with her second husband, Sergei Grigoryev, worked in Tula as sports consultant. Despite her background and physical education degree, she did not find much success coaching. She was the only member of the 1980 team who did not move abroad to coach at some point.

"She had three children and decided to focus on the family, and not to think about a career," 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 said lingering injuries from her own career prevented her from taking the job of an active coach.

"Of course I can't be a coach myself, thanks to injuries as a kid," she said. "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."

Her death was a shock, Shevchuk told TASS News. He had recently spoken to Naimushina about the possibility of her working at his club, he said. He had expected to see her Wednesday after she returned from Moscow.

"Today will be the autopsy, after which the cause of death will become clear," said Shevchuk, 80. "But this loss was very unexpected for me."

Naimushina returned frequently to Krasnoyarsk, where an All-Russia competition in her honor has been held since 1995. (The competition is held each November to commemorate her birthdate). Despite the fact that she lived in Tula and spent 15 years in Latvia, Naimushina said she still felt herself to be a Siberian at heart, even though her children had all moved abroad (Her eldest son lives in Germany, her second son in London and her daughter returned to Latvia after college.)

"My children, as you can see, are scattered, but I still consider myself a Siberian, a Krasnoyarka," she said in 2013.

Update: A memorial service for Naimushina will be held Saturday at Central Stadium in Krasnoyarsk. She will be buried at Badalyk Cemetery in Krasnoyarsk.

Comments (2)add comment

Rodney said:

Very sad news
I saw Yelena perform at the USSR gymnastics display in London 1979 - and she was brilliant, reminding me of Elena Mukhina. What a shock to hear of her passing.
March 24, 2017
Votes: +5

Lydia said:

So sorry to hear about Elena
I loved her Kalinka floor routine and the Volga Boatman Song - and her beam was so graceful.

RIP Elena
March 28, 2017
Votes: +4

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