What Is the Yurchenko Vault?

The Story Behind One of the Hardest Gymnastic Skills

Yurchenko Vault
Hardest Skills in Women's Gymnastics.

The Yurchenko vault has a storied history in Women's Gymnastics. First performed in 1982, it revolutionized the event for decades and continues to be one of the hardest skills to master. The Yurchenko is most commonly identified as a family of vaults in the Code of Points, named after 1983 world all-around champion Natalia Yurchenko.

In a Yurchenko, the gymnast starts with a round-off onto the board, then does a back handspring or back handspring with a full twist onto the table, and a flip off of the table, usually with a twist.

Examples of Yurchenko Vault

Yurchenko Vault in Olympic Competition

The Yurchenko vault is the most commonly performed type of vault in Olympic competition. Because it helps gymnasts generate much more power than front-handspring or Tsukahara entry vaults, many gymnasts opt to use Yurchenko vaults. It has been used to win many Olympic and world competitions since it was introduced and is a standard vault on the scene.

When It Was First Performed

When Yurchenko first pioneered this vault in 1982 it was jaw-dropping. People couldn't believe that someone would attempt a vault that seemed so dangerous and risky. They admired both her power and her bravery. Listen to the commentary on Natalia Yurchenko's vault for an idea of the reaction.

The Risks Associated with the Yurchenko Vault

Since it was introduced, there have been some scary crashes on the vault when a gymnast has missed a hand on the horse or a foot on the springboard. The most devastating was the heart-breaking crash of Julissa Gomez in 1988. She broke her neck when her foot missed the springboard, and later died from her injuries.

Since then, important steps have been taken to make vault safer. A "safety zone" mat in the shape of a U often surrounds the springboard in case the gymnast misses the board, and a mat is sometimes placed in front of the board as well, to help with proper hand placement for the round-off, and to protect from wrist injury. Most obviously, in 2001 the old vaulting horse was replaced by the safer vault table, which gives athletes more margin for error when pushing off.

With these safety improvements, many athletes even at the lower levels of Junior Olympic competition are able to complete the vault.