Biography of Aliya Mustafina

Aliya Fargatovna Mustafina, born on September 30th, 1994, is a Russian artistic gymnast who has competed in the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships twice and the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships once, earning her country numerous medals over the past four years. She is also the winner of three national Russian titles. She has sustained two injuries over the course of her career only to come back stronger in both cases. She herself comes from a family of athletes—her younger sister Nailya winning a silver medal in the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships, and her father, Farhat Mustafin, winning a bronze medal for his performance in Greco-Roman wrestling during the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Her first appearance at the Olympic Games will take place in July 2012 in London, and she is favored to win, especially in the all-around competition.

Throughout her training as an Olympic Gymnast, Aliya continued her studies, graduating from high school in 2012 with high grades in physics and math, her favorite subjects. This was certainly due in part to her mother’s help, who is a physics teacher. While her mother has given her cause to enjoy her schoolwork, her father taught her a love for the gym, and has become a pillar of support during her meteoric rise. “He helps me and gives me advice, especially when I am exhausted and feel I can’t go on,” she said. Mustafina and her sister also have a good relationship, due in part to their passion for gymnastics.


Junior Championships:

Aliya began her career in the 2007 International Junior Competition, winning silver medals in all four of the women’s gymnastic events as well as the all-around. This promising start continued well into 2007 as she won medals during the Gymnix International Competition, taking place that year in Montreal, as well as the Stella Zakharova Cup, where she finished second place with her team. She continued to improve during her years competing as a junior, winning her first gold medal during the 2008 Junior European Gymnastics Championship. In 2009 she won her first Russian national title in Gymnastics for her stunning display on the balance beam, and later that year her performance at the Japan Cup helped her team win second place in Tokyo.

Aliya’s first years of success could not have been done without the professional coaches that taught her, namely Dina Kamalova and Aleksandr Aleksandrov. When coach Kamalova left suddenly for the United States, Aliya was half-decided toward giving up gymnastics for good. Her new coach, Mr. Aleksandrov, persuaded her otherwise, and it is due to his steady guidance that Aliya is now such a committed athlete and world-renowned gymnast. Aliya’s strong personality can at times put her at odds with her coaches, but Mr. Aleksandrov seems an exception. “…he has found a good way to communicate with me,” she said. The feelings are mutual, with Mr. Aleksandrov having an understanding about the space Aliya needs to perform successfully. During an interview with the magazine Gimnastika, Mr. Aleksandrov praised her talent, while also recalling her strong temper: “She is a difficult girl. She is very talented in some things, but she has her problems. And that’s normal—champions are never accommodating.”

She Joins The Senior Team:

The 2010 season would be the most pivotal year yet for Aliya, who was now able to participate in senior competitions. The year did not start out very promising, however, due to an ankle injury that left her unable to compete in the Russian Nationals. Luckily the injury was not very grave, and she made her way first to Paris, where she won a second place finish in the French International for her display on the balance beam, and then to Birmingham to take part in the European Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Here she helped her team win first place and a gold medal, along with two silver medals for her performance on the uneven bars and balance beam.

This was only the beginning for Aliya, however, and she further expanded upon her success while at the Japan Cup, helping her team win another first place victory, and a third place victory for herself in the all-around. The Russian Cup held later that year gave her three first place victories with the uneven bars, vault, and floor exercise. The Holland Invitational had another success in store for her, with her team finishing in first place, and herself winning her first all-around.

All of this training would be leading up to her greatest challenge yet—the 2010 Worlds.

The 2010 World Artistic Gymnastics Championship:

Going into the 2010 Worlds, Aliya displayed a cool confidence, a trademark “game face” which she always has on at these events. During one conversation with Mr. Aleksandrov near the start of the event, while he was giving her a few final bits of advice, Aliya stopped him and smiled. “Don’t worry,” she replied, “I will win.”

She began the 2010 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships with a string of victories, first at the qualifiers, where she made all four events, and then in the finals, where she won three silver medals in the uneven bars, vault, and floor exercise. This earned her a first place victory in the all-around competition by a wide margin. Furthermore, she again aided her team in taking yet another gold medal. Her superior ability in all four of the women’s events gave her wide renown and immediate respect. Not since 1997 had a gymnast succeed in making it to four event finals, and not since the 2001 World Artistic Gymnastic Championships had a gymnast taken home five medals.

It was a stunning display of athletic ability, and it would bring her sailing into the 2011 Gymnastic season.

The 2011 Season:

During the off season she continued her training with coaches Sergei Zelikson, Aleksandr Aleksandrov, and Olga Sikorro, as well as her team coach Andrei Rodionenko. Her star was still on the rise at the opening of 2011, where, at Jacksonville, she won a silver medal, and at the Paris International, she handsomely netted another three gold medals.

Aliya continued to prepare for the European Championship, which fast approached. It was around this time that, during the Discussion series on the European Championships, someone mentioned in passing that, “Basically, the only thing that loses Mustafina the title is A) a complete and total meltdown…and/or B) an injury that leaves her unable to finish the competition.”  The second prediction would prove to be disastrously fortuitous.

Injured At The European Championship:

Upon entering the 2011 European Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships, Aliya was already one of the most highly decorated gymnasts competing. Her routine included a perfect Amanar vault (a 2.5 Yurchenko twist, named after the famed vaulter Simona Amanar) which she performed routinely. Since its invention at the 2000 Olympics, less than 25 women have landed them properly. The landing itself is very hard on the knees, and over time, it can increase the chances of an accident. She was not, however, thinking of that.

She began with a brilliant start, again placing in all four events as well as earning a first place in the all-around qualifiers. The finals began with the vault event, and while the Amanar she performed landed her the high score of the competition, it was also enough to twist her left knee inward, tearing her meniscus.  She finished gracefully however despite the pain, nodding to the judges just before hobbling to the edge of the mat and sitting down, obviously in pain.

The injury was diagnosed as a torn ACL, requiring surgery and months of healing. However, she did not leave the European Championships immediately, and stayed until the end of the competition, supporting her teammates from the bench.

Recovery and Further Success:

It would be seven months before Aliya was competing again after the injury. She was stopped from competing in the World Artistic Gymnastic Championships for 2011 as well as the rest of the season, and not until the Voronin Memorial did she make her first appearance at a competition since her recovery. April 2012 saw Aliya win her third Russian National, this time held in Penza, scoring 59.533 points in total. Her score of 16.220 on the uneven bars was the highest for the entire competition and made it apparent she was still at the top of her game. Strengthened by this success, she went on to the 2012 European Championship in May, helping her team win the silver.

Much talk has been made over how much her injury has affected her performance. Martha Karolyi, the coordinator for the U.S. women’s team, mentioned that “she hasn’t been the same gymnast since.”  These and other doubts however do not seem to be affecting Aliya’s performance, who, besides still gritting her teeth at times on a landing, looks to be as graceful as ever. Her confident appearance at the Russian National as well as her high score both pointed to her full recuperation after the event at the European Championships.

Potential For A Victory At The 2012 Olympics:

Aliya is coming into the Olympic Games with a high level of confidence and she is expected to be a serious competitor. She has recently undergone a new training program which, at least as far as the first half of the 2012 season goes, seems to have done wonders for her performance, especially on the uneven bars, where she has perfected her 7D routine with a special dismount, a 1.5 twist and a double flip, known in gymnast circles as “The Mustafina.” Her prowess on the beam has been improved as well, with a double turn and a round-off triple full dismount.

A victory in London in the all-around would make her the first Russian woman to do so since 1988, and with more experience now than ever, and with such a balanced display of skill shown in all four events, she will be someone to watch for at the 2012 Olympic Games. More than that however, her fans will watch her for her focus, her confident style, and her artistic flare on the gymnastic floor. Knee injury or no, Aliya is coming to London reinvigorated.

Copyright: Alan Owen, Webmaster.