Sunday, 26 May 2013

Gymnastics Legends: Elena Produnova (RUS)

I thought I would start a new series of post on famous gymnasts from the past, that some of the younger generation ought to know about!

My earliest memories of watching gymnastics came from the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney. This was back when gymnasts were scored out of a 10.0 and the vault was much narrower than it is today. Team competitions were always a tight battle between the Russians and Romanians and China was really starting to become good. There were some great gymnasts of that era, including Russia's Svetlana Khorkina, Ekaterina Lobazniuk and Romania's Simona Amanar (who performed the yurchenko 2.5 twist on the old vaulting horse) and Andreea Raducan.

One of the standout performers for me was red-haired Elena Produnova of Russia. Practically raised by her coach (her only father figure in her life), she was an extremely powerful gymnast with a lot of attitude. She was the first woman to perform the Prudonova vault (a handspring with two flips), and not only was she capable of performing this extremely difficult vault, she did it well. No other gymnast since her has managed to compete in even nearly as well as she did.

Produnova competes her vault in 1999
She can be described as a proud Russian. When her team made mistakes in the team final at the Olympics, she was not afraid at showing her disappointment. Her own performances has been extremely solid- she really has nerves of steel when she competes. She and her team mates had the capability to be the best in the world, but failed to prove it on team finals night. Mistakes on bars from Khorkina and from Lobazniuk on beam cost Russia the gold medal (it was won by the more consistent Romanians).

NBC on the Russian and Romanian Teams at the Sydney Olympics

She made gymnastics her job and got much pleasure out of showing the world what she could do. For her, the Olympics was it and she retired after the 2000 Olympic Games, after winning a silver in the team final and a bronze on beam. Gymnastics was a very different sport at this time. Powerful gymnasts such as Produnova thrived under this code of points, where there was less of an emphasis on artistry and more of an emphasis on difficulty and clean execution. Many of the routines and combinations were similar, but Produnova helped to break this mold with her unique forwards tumbling skills.

Produnova competes in the beam event final in Sydney (bronze medal). Check out the amazing dismount!

Article by Imogen Browne (Follow me on Twitter @Iflip4gymblog)

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