Injuries rare, but still a risk in gymnastics
Posted: Wednesday July 22, 1998 07:24 PM
UNIONDALE, New York (Reuters) -- Romanian women's gymnastics coach Octavian Belu has seen his share of athletes fall or land badly, and most of the time those athletes get up and walk away.
But when Chinese gymnast Sang Lan crashed during a vault warm-up before the start of Tuesday night's Goodwill Games competition, Belu said he heard a snap.
"It concerned me because it sounded like a bone breaking, so I told her to keep still," said Belu, who was standing near the vault when Sang crashed and said he was the first to reach her after she landed. "But I still didn't know how serious it was."
Belu, who has coached the powerful Romanian women's team for 17 years, said that Sang's accident occurred because the Chinese national vault champion made a mistake.
She appeared to overpower a simple front handspring, Belu said, and then tried to tuck and roll out of it into a somersault on the mat. But Sang landed on the back of her neck, resulting in what doctors called a fracture-dislocation of two vertebrae at the base of her neck.
Sang, 17, is at least temporarily paralyzed from the waist down and has limited movement in her arms.
USA Gymnastics outgoing president Kathy Scanlon said Wednesday that accidents such as Sang's happen, and that the gymnastics equipment was not to blame.
"The equipment was in complete compliance with international rules to assure maximum, safe conditions," she said. "This was simply an accident that can occur in any sport, and for that, we express our deepest sorrow and regret."
Sang isn't the first in gymnastics to suffer a devastating injury.
At the 1989 world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Puerto Rico's Adriana Duffy crashed during vault practice and remains paralyzed from the waist down.
In 1988, U.S. gymnast Julissa Gomez crashed into the vault during a warm-up at the World Sports Fair in Tokyo. She was paralyzed and died from complications in 1991.
Russian Elena Moukhina, the 1978 world all-around champion, became a quadriplegic after she fell while practicing her floor exercise and broke her neck.
American Abie Grossfeld, a 1956 and 1960 Olympian and who now coaches, said gymnastics is no more dangerous than other sports like pole vaulting, diving or skiing.
"We have made great strides in the past 30 years. We were pioneers in developing books and courses on safety, and in getting people certified," he said.
"Accidents like these in gymnastics happen once every 10 years," he said about Sang's horrific landing. "It was a simple element, and when she messed up she didn't decide what to do in time. She made a mistake."
Belu said Sang's accident didn't affect the other vaulting competitors Tuesday.
It's like anything else. You don't think it's going to happen to you, so you put it out of your mind,' he said. 'We didn't discuss it."
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