Yelena Lvovna Shushunova (Russian: Елена Львовна Шушунова; name sometimes rendered Elena Shushunova; born 23 April 1969) is a Russian (former Soviet) gymnast, World, European, and Olympic Champion. Shushunova was the first to perform several difficult skills including a Yurchenko vault with 1.5 twists, a release on the uneven bars, and her signature Shushunova (a straddle jump to land in a front lying support) on floor exercise. Shushunova was renowned for pioneering complex skills as well as for her explosive and dynamic tumbling and high consistency, although she lacked the form and artistry of some of her rivals.
Shushunova's career highlights as a junior gymnast include gold medals at the 1982 Moscow News (now known as Moscow Stars of the World) and the Junior European Championships. In 1983 she won the USSR Cup, which she won every year until 1988 with the exception of 1984. Shushunova was unable to compete at the 1984 Summer Olympics, which were boycotted by the Soviet Union. Instead, she competed at the 1984 Friendship Games in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia, where she finished third all around and helped the USSR to a gold in the team event, which they dominated.
The following year she made her breakthrough by winning the all around title at the European Championships. She also won the three gold medals in the event finals on vault, floor exercise, and uneven bars which she shared with East German Olympian Maxi Gnauck. At the World Championships she won five medals including the all-around title, which she shared with compatriot Oksana Omelianchik. She took first on vault, third on beam, and second on floor to her teammate Oksana Omelianchik. In her floor exercise set to the Charleston she tumbled a double layout, and side Arabian 1 and 3/4 salto, both rare skills for women at that time; in fact, women are no longer allowed to compete saltos which end in a roll. Here she displayed her signature skill, a straddle jump to prone support, rare and innovative for the 80s but fairly common for recent gymnastics exercises. Neither Shushunova nor Omelianhchik actually qualified to the all around as their teammates Irina Baraksanova and Alternate Games Champion Olga Mostepanova earned higher preliminary scores. However considering their recent successes at the European Championships, the Soviet coaches guessed that they were the two best hopes for a world title.
Shushunova's dominance in women's gymnastics continued at the 1986 World Cup in Beijing. There she won the all around, vault, uneven bars, and floor exercise titles. In this competition she displayed an increased level of difficulty on two apparatus, showing a Rulfova flic (full twisting Korbut flic) on balance beam and a tucked full in double salto dismount on the uneven bars.
1987 showcased the growing rivalry between the Soviet Shushunova and Romanian Daniela Silivaş. In Moscow, Shushunova was not in peak form and she lost the European title to Silivaş, suffering a costly fall on a double layout dismount from the uneven bars. At the European championships she earned a bronze in the all around and a gold on vault, a low medal count for her standards. She continued to show increased difficulty on all apparatus by competing a double layout dismount on the uneven bars, a layout Thomas salto on floor, and a full in dismount on beam. Later that year her team lost the World Championships team title, placing second to the champion Romanians in an upset defeat. This was only the third time the USSR failed to win the team title. Elena also lost the world title to the graceful Romanian Aurelia Dobre, finishing in second place. In the event finals Elena did provide them with one taste of gold, retaining her vault title with her textbook Yurchenko full and Yurchenko 1.5, beating Romanian Eugenia Golea who showcased a Yurchenko double full. She also earned a bronze medal on uneven bars, debuting a unique and difficult skill, a giant with a half turn to a Markelov (commonly called a full twisting Tkatchev). She also won the world title on floor exericse sharing the title with Silivaş, with both gymnasts earning a perfect combined score of 20.
Next year Elena was a leading contender for the all-around title at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. After defeating the Romanians in the team competition there was a close battle for the title between Shushunova and Silivaş. Shushunova entered the all around competition with a lead of 0.05 points, competing with Silivaş in the same rotation. What followed was a closely matched and exciting battle with both gymnasts fully aware that any error could cost them the gold. Each was majestic, and the pair scored multiple tens. In the last rotation on vault, Silivas performed first and did well enough to ensure that Elena required a ten to take the title, which she did to become Olympic all-around champion. In the finals she won only two more medals; a bronze on uneven bars and a silver on balance beam. The tally could have been higher, but Elena faltered on her two strongest apparatus, falling on a Yurchenko double full and making an uncharacteristic stumble on floor exercise.