5 Gymnasts' Catastrophic Crashes

Mistakes can mean broken necks, paralysis, and early death.

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In terms of danger, the stakes are highest for elite gymnasts who perform the trickiest of skills. Even their mastery, with the watchful eye of a skilled coach, isn't enough to prevent catastrophic injuries:

1980. At age 20, former Soviet Union gymnastics champion Elena Mukhina crash-lands while practicing a signature tumbling pass and is paralyzed. She dies decades later at 45.

1988. At age 15, American gymnast Julissa Gomez breaks her neck while performing a difficult vault. Paralyzed, she dies three years later from complications.

1989. A vaulting accident leaves Adriana Duffy, then 17, wheelchairbound. She was competing for Puerto Rico's national team.

1998. At age 17, Chinese gymnast Sang Lan has a vaulting slip-up and is paralyzed.

2007. Chinese gymnast Wang Yan, 15, falls from the uneven bars, breaking her neck.

—Lindsay Lyon

Read more about how gymnastics is a worthwhile sport, even though it's risky.