5 Gymnasts' Catastrophic Crashes

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


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.