|Russian Olympian and world medalist Yuri Ryazanov was killed in a car accident Tuesday on a Russian highway. He was 22.Russian Olympian and world medalist Yuri Ryazanov was killed in a car accident Tuesday morning outside his hometown of Vladimir. He was 22.
Ryazanov won the all-around bronze medal Thursday at the world gymnastics championships in London, finishing behind Japan's Kohei Uchimura and Great Britain's Daniel Keatings.
According to reports, the accident occurred 160 km east of Moscow at 12:50 p.m., when Ryazanov was returning to his hometown of Vladimir following the world championships. Police believe he was killed instantly when he lost control of his car and swerved into oncoming traffic. His Chevrolet collided with an Audi, injuring two of its passengers.
Ryazanov had been Russia's most successful all-around gymnast the past few years, winning bronze medals at the European championships in 2007 and 2009. He won both of Russia's top domestic meets in 2009 — the Russian national championships in March and the Russian Cup in August.
"This is a human tragedy," Russian head coach Andrei Rodionenko said. "He was very good, kind, honest. The whole team respected him."
Ryazanov's shocked coaches and teammates spoke with the media, and said they were trying to piece together details of what could have caused the tragedy. The team returned to Moscow from London on Monday, and drove to the Round Lake national training center. Ryazanov had picked up his car at Round Lake and was driving home to Vladimir, 200 km (124 miles) east of the capital.
"I'm still stunned. I don't understand how this could happen. Yura was a great guy, kind, friendly, hard-working," teammate Maxim Devyatovsky said. "I do not understand why this happened to him, why God allowed this. He has driven for years, and everyone knew that he drove very quietly, calmly, without any foolishness. Yura was such a positive guy, that it is simply impossible [that he could have been drinking]. We talked with some guys from the junior team, and they claim they saw his Chevrolet recently and it was too low in the front. Maybe that was the cause? Although it is no longer important..."
Russian men's head coach Yevgeny Nikolko also spoke out against speculation that any alcohol was involved in the crash.
"Yura was a very good driver," Nikolko said. "I exclude the possibility that he would ever drink before getting behind the wheel. He was overall a very responsible and calm young man. This wonderful man had the whole world ahead of him.
Continued Nikolko, "I'm still in shock. When he told me he was going to drive home, I just told him, 'Please, be careful.' And now this terrible thing happened. I have no words to describe it."
Ryazanov was born March 21, 1987 in Vladimir, a city with a strong gymnastics tradition. He trained at the N. G. Tolkachov Olympic Reserve School, where he was coached by Igor Kalabushkin.
He joined Russia's senior national team in 2006, and later that year helped the team win silver at the 2006 World Championships, where he placed 16th all-around. He improved that rank at the 2007 Worlds, finishing 13th. He was a member of Russia's gold medal-winning team at the 2008 European Championships. His team placed sixth at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Ryazanov's bronze medal at the world championships Thursday, won in a close-fought men's all-around final, was the biggest achievement of his career. He qualified only eighth to the final, landing him in the second-seeded group that began on pommel horse. While several favorites faltered, Ryazanov's consistent performances moved him into medal contention. His fall on his high bar dismount in the fifth rotation was his only break of the day, but he followed it with a strong routine on floor exercise. His final score edged him past Japan's Kazuhito Tanaka by .1.
"Yesterday he returned to Moscow after the world championships, where he won the country's most distinguished medal — a medal in the all-around," the Russian Gymnastics Federation stated on its Web site in a brief announcement on his death. "Yet another day he tightly fought for his place on the podium, and we admired his skill, perseverance and tenacity."
Rodionenko said federation representatives will go to Vladimir to help Ryazanov's family prepare for the funeral.