Julissa D'anne Gomez (November 4, 1972 – August 8, 1991) was an American gymnast. She was born in San Antonio, Texas.
Gomez was an up-and-coming international elite gymnast in the mid-1980s. She trained with Béla Károlyi in Houston from the age of 10. At the 1986 U.S. Championships, she placed fourth in the all-around in the junior division and won a place on the U.S. National Team. By 1987 she was representing the United States in international meets. Especially strong on the uneven bars and balance beam, Gomez was considered a legitimate contender for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.
In mid-1987, Gomez left the Károlyis, briefly trained at US Acrosports, and moved to Missouri to train with Al Fong. In the spring of 1988, several months before the Olympics, she traveled to Japan to compete in the World Sports Fair. In an eerie foreshadowing of events to come, during the qualifying rounds of the competition, Gomez reportedly spoke about the Soviet gymnast Elena Mukhina, who had been paralyzed in an accident in 1980 just a few weeks before the Moscow Olympics.
While Gomez had qualified for the vault final, she had also been struggling with the event for some time. Many people close to Gomez, including her former coach, Béla Károlyi; her present coach, Al Fong; and several teammates from both gyms, had noticed her shaky technique on her Yurchenko vault. Julissa did not feel comfortable with the vault and was not able to consistently perform it safely even in practice, sometimes missing the springboard entirely. A teammate from Károlyi's, Chelle Stack, later stated, "You could tell it was not a safe vault for her to be doing. Someone along the way should have stopped her." However, Julissa's coaches insisted that she needed to continue training and competing the Yurchenko vault in order to achieve high scores.
Practicing the vault during warmups for the final, Gomez's foot slipped off the springboard. Her head hit the vaulting horse at high speed, and the resulting crash paralyzed her. A subsequent accident at a Japanese hospital, in which she became disconnected from her ventilator, resulted in severe brain damage and left her in a catatonic state. Gomez's family cared for her for three years before she succumbed to an infection and died in 1991 in Houston; she was eighteen years old.
The Gomez tragedy stands as one of the most serious accidents ever to occur in artistic gymnastics, and helped prompt changes in the sport. In 1989, the International Gymnastics Federation decided to increase vaulting safety by allowing U-shaped springboard mats, traditionally utilized in practice to give gymnasts a greater margin of error in preflight, to be used during competitions. The mat is now mandatory: as of the 2006 Code of Points, performing a Yurchenko-style vault without the safety mat results in an automatic score of zero. In 2001, the traditional horse was completely phased out and replaced by a larger, more stable vaulting table to provide gymnasts with additional safety.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 "Tales from the vaults" Rebecca Seal, Guardian Unlimited, 4 December 2005.
- ↑ Results from 1986 Jr. Nationals at Gymn-Forum
- ↑ Results from 1987 U.S. Nationals at Gymn-Forum
- ↑ Memorial at Gymnastics Greats
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Template:Cite book
- ↑ "Gymnast paralyzed" The New York Times, May 8, 1988.
- ↑ Code of Points at the official website of the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG):Section 8.4, "Specific Apparatus Deductions (A Panel), page 34.