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Gymnastic Champions Take Different Paths Following Accidents

November 1, 1987 GMT

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Dmitri Bilozerchev and Elena Mukhina both suffered disasterous falls after becoming world gymnastics champions. The similarities end there for the two athletes from the Soviet Union.

Bilozerchev is champion again, smelling the roses and dancing until dawn. Mukhina is confined to a wheelchair that she knows she may never be without.

In 1983, Bilozerchev became the youngest male world gymnastics champion at the age of 16. A month before the next world championships in 1985, he smashed his leg in a car accident after a pre-wedding celebration, a crash that caused dissension in the Soviet Sports and Gymnastics Federations and sidelined him for almost two years.

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″We had a celebration because we had registered the necessary documents for the wedding,″ Bilozerchev said in an interview. ″Yes, the morning after there were remnants of alcohol in the blood.″.

Last week, about a month after resuming competition, the fallen prodigy returned as the prodigal son. Bilozerchev regained the all-around title in the World Gymnastics Championships in Rotterdam, taking four gold medals and six medals in all.

He sniffed the flowers scattered about the arena between events, and that night he was in a Rotterdam disco until the early morning.

Yuri Titov, the president of the International Gymnastics Federation and the head of gymnastics in the Soviet Union, was instrumental in keeping Bilozerchev on the national team against the wishes of the Soviet Sports Committee.

″It was an accident,″ Titov said said of Bilozerchev’s crash. ″They did drink but not so much. He was a young driver. But he was punished by the press because he was a star. He was used an an example. He’s no alcoholic.

″People fall down once in a while. In sports that happens all the time.″

For Mukhina, the effects of the fall were more serious.

Seven years after breaking her back while practicing floor exercises for the Moscow Olympics, the 1978 women’s world all-around champion is still in a wheelchair.

Life for her is a monotonous series of exercising, eating, massages and reading.

″The main thing is not to lose faith,″ Mukhina said in an interview with Moscow News Weekly. ″Even though I do realize that for me it can remain simply a struggle for something unattainable.″

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Mukhina said she was attempting too much when she broke her back.

″At training I couldn’t perform a 1 3/4 somesault with 1 3/4 twists. I wasn’t prepared for it,″ Mukhina said in the interview, which was reprinted in International Gymnast magazine. ″However, I had the feeling that I must prevail over everything else. So I started performing the somersault and broke my back.

″I was let down by my own inability to say ’No.‴

Both Mukhina and Bilozerchev said some people quickly deserted them following the accidents.

″All those whom I thought to be my friends vanished and people from whom I didn’t expect compassion and understanding have remained with me,″ Mukhina said.

″I had many supporters but I was also condemned by some people,″ Bilozerchev said. ″There were some people who believed I would not return. They didn’t say it to me directly but I felt it behind my back.

″After the accident my friends helped me because they accepted it and didn’t remind me. I knew that I had failed my teammates because the accident was just before the world championships.

″There was a period when I could not step on the leg. But as soon as I was able to walk on it, I knew I could come back in competition.

″Two years. It seems like such a short time after the accident.″

Bilozerchev said he still has some numbness in his leg.

″I am hoping that this feeling goes away. Perhaps in five years,″ he said.

Mukhina’s goal is regaining any feeling of her legs.

″I started to train according to the system of a circus perforer who managed to return to the ring after a grave injury,″ Mukhina said. ″The system is based on training with weights that burden the muscles which function to gradually activate the unfuctioning muscles.

″It is much to early to speak of results. Maybe a few years from now. Haste is a bad ally.″

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