Elena Sergeyevna Produnova (Russian: Елена Сергеевна Продунова; born February 15, 1980) is a female Russian gymnast, living in Rostov-on-Don, Rostov Oblast, Russia. Her senior international career lasted from 1995 to 2000, and earned her multiple world and Olympic medals, though gold always eluded her. She is known for her innovative and powerful skills on the vault and floor exercise.
Produnova's first major senior competition was the 1995 World Championships in Sabae, Japan where the Russians finished fourth. Inexperienced, Produnova made little impact on the international scene. A heel injury hampered her chances of being chosen for the 1996 Summer Olympics, and she stayed at home.
By 1997, these problems had been overcome. She wowed the crowd with her power at the 1997 World Championships in Lausanne—the tumbles in her floor routine drew gasps of admiration. However, perhas the first inkling of her inconsistency came when she was unable to control her incredible power (Produnova kept taking large steps back to control her last tumbling pass). Still, Russia took team silver behind Romania, and Produnova claimed a pair of bronzes in the all-around and floor exercise.
In 1998, Produnova overcame an ankle injury. That year she also qualified 1st at the 1998 Russian Nationals and finished 5th in the All-Around and 3rd on the vault. During the 1998 Cottbus, Produnova finished 2nd on the vault, 1st on the balance beam, and 2nd on the floor. However, she was unable to compete at the European Championships because of her injury. Had she been there, she had a legitimate chance of taking several medals.
At the 1999 University Games, Produnova won vault and beam titles, and also finished 2nd in the AA and first in the team competition. It was here that she debuted her famous handspring double front vault, a feat that no woman has since matched in major competition.
The 1999 World Championships in Tianjin, China saw strong performances from Produnova, where she was unlucky not to take any more individual medals. She finished fourth in the vault, bars, floor and all-around finals. The overall champion was Maria Olaru. Russia once again finished second to Romania.
The 2000 European Championships saw Russia, with the help of Produnova, beat Romania for gold for the first time ever. Produnova also took a bronze on beam, behind teammate Svetlana Khorkina, and a silver on floor behind Ludivine Furnon of France. These results and her victory in the Russian national championships gained Produnova a place on the team for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
In the preliminary round at the Olympics, the Russians were dominant. The quartet of Produnova, Khorkina, Yekaterina Lobaznyuk and world vault champion Elena Zamolodchikova would probably have been capable of gold even without the two other team members, and they all qualified for multiple finals. Though Romania were world champions, the Russians had beaten them earlier in the year and seemed likely to take the Olympic title.
However, it was not to be. Four of the six gymnasts fell in the team final, and ironically it was only the two unknown athletes on the team who competed without major error. Russia's superstars had succumbed to inconsistency and thrown away their chance at the Olympic title. As it happened, Produnova's mistake was not totally disastrous, since she sat down only one of two vaults and her score was dropped (at this time, teams could drop the lowest score on each apparatus therefore one fall was not too drastic). After her one error, she was a rock for her team, recording their highest scores on beam and bars. The same principle applied to Khorkina's fall from bars since the score did not have to count towards the team title, the mistake did not have to cost them the gold. Not for the first time, it was the beam that claimed Russia. Both Zamolodchikova and Lobaznyuk fell, and it was not until Produnova's solid performance that the Russians showed a clean routine. After that, their chances of gold had gone. The Russians performed fabulously on floor, and were the top scoring team there, but it was not enough. Romania were victorious, by a margin of only two tenths. Clearly disgusted, Produnova and Khorkina both removed their silver medals as they walked off the podium.
Produnova had qualified for the all-around finals, where she was a legitimate medal threat. However, she had broken her foot during the Olympics and, bitterly disappointed, had to withdraw. Teammate Elena Zamolodchikova took her place. Produnova's sadness was compounded when two of the three Russians fell, and none managed to make the podium. Her Olympics had turned into a nightmare.
However, Produnova was determined to grab her chance of individual Olympic glory, broken foot or not. She competed in both of the finals to which she had qualified, bars and beam. A mistake kept her out of the medals on bars. Beam was her final chance. A look of determination on her face, she hit her routine solidly and stuck her incredibly difficult double front dismount without so much as a waver. The reward was a bronze medal, behind Liu Xuan of China and teammate Yekaterina Lobaznyuk. Clearly delighted, Produnova punched the air as she received her medal.
Sydney was Produnova's last major competition, and she retired at the age of 20.
|Sabae World Championships||4|
|1997||Lausanne World Championships||2nd||3rd||3rd|
|Cottbus World Cup||2nd||5||1st||2nd|
|Tianjin World Championships||2nd||4||4||4||4|
|Arthur Gander Memorial||4|
|2000||Visa American Cup||1st|
|Cottbus World Cup||3rd||5||1st|
|Paris European Championships||1st||3rd||2nd|
|Sydney Olympic Games||2nd||6||3rd|
1998-2000 - "Hernando's Hideaway"