Photo by Silvia Vatteroni
In the hotel where the gymnasts were staying during World Championship in Nanning there was a special welcome ceremony with flowers for every champion of this edition. The hotel made a special list ”Here stands the world champion of…”, Olympic Champion Aliya Mustafina was not among the gymnasts in this list. She helped the team earn a bronze and surprisingly earned herself two individual bronze medals on floor and beam.

While on beam she had no expectations regarding medals- that bronze was just luck, in floor finals she risked by executing all her potential difficulty as  clean as possible. The Worlds are over and for Aliya ” everything is over, we have to move forward!”

It was hard to go for gold medals with her current program. The new CoP made her Olympic uneven bars routine worth less than it was in London and in order to create one with the same difficulty, the routine has to be completely changed. And it is not easy to learn something new in gymnastics at this age and in a such short period of time.

At the begining of the year Aliya took  some time off, because she was very tired after the Olympics. Then  she prepared for the European Championships in Sofia. After that she took a rest, went to Germany for an operation on her ankle and then took four weeks off as she wasn’t allowed to train. She had only one month and a half to prepare for the World Championship. The main goal was to regain the same level she was at in Sofia.

Only now she understood that if she wants to be a part of the team in Rio she shouldn’t have allowed herself to take any time off. It is hard to get back. And it is very important to avoid  injuries.

Aliya doesn’t have a personal coach. She works with Raisa Ganina for the choreography part.  But this is an issue she will think about. Firstly it is hard not to have a person who fulfills the role of “protecting” and “pushing” you. Secondly, she is always the one who is making the decisions which is not exactly right. There is no such person right now nearby, but if everything goes right the person will appear by themselves.

She agrees that sometimes it is difficult to work with her.  But it is because if she sets herself a goal, she will do whatever it takes to accomplish it . Aliya does not react to those who are angry at her. If for example she thinks she needs to get a skill on bars and it will take  her 10 hours, she will do it, even if others, the more experienced ones said the opposite.

In Nanning, we saw a completely different Aliya. She smiles more and is not so serious. She is already 20 and after many years in elite gymnastics, she started to act more naturally and not cautious. She is having more fun than before and communicates more often during competitions, and she actually began to enjoy it.

 Aliya has recently understood that she has to give it all for this sport, but at the same time not take it as a job, more like a hobby which she finds joy in. When small kids come to gymnastics in Russia, they are forced, they cry and some of them pass through this, while others quit, whereas American gymnasts- they all do gymnastics with a smile on their face, they enjoy it. The mindset of “doing  what you like” helps you get through hard days.

On how to beat the strong USA team, she hopes that the juniors will contribute to building a strong team for the future. They have to train difficult skills at a young age. “The situation with the younger girls is a problem, of course. When Vika Komova, Tanya Nabieva and I were young, we could already do everything we do now. If I hadn’t been in that kind of shape when I was younger I would never have achieved anything.”

She hopes that some of the newly turned seniors will increase their difficulty and bring consistency to their performances. It will be hard to beat the American team. They are very powerful and the artistry that Russians are taught to be cautious about during competitions no longer matters. Whether they  jump with pointed toes  or not, do perfect or imperfect splits, for the judges there is no difference.

The program which the Americans have is technically difficult and theoretically can be performed by Russian gymnasts, but if you do that routine with grace and pointed toes, it is a huge plus. And not for judges but for the audience who are watching the performance.  The issue of the judging is a separate one. Sometimes Aliya thinks that they determine the podium winners before they even judge a routine  And this is the most frustrating part because then she understands that no matter how much effort she will put in her routine, US Simone Biles will still outscore her.

And there is no issue with force training inside the Russian team, all the gymnasts are doing workouts to increase the muscle mass: before worlds there were 2 training sessions per day including running. But there are some gymnasts that no matter how they much they train, they will not gain a large amount of muscles: like Maria Kharencova, Daria Spiridonova or Polina Feodorova. Perhaps it is all about genetics. There will still be muscles but not as visible as on the American gymnasts. The same thing with tiny Chinese gymnasts: they are short and thin and there is no chance to build in muscle mass on such bodies, it is how all women are here in China.

Aliya lost some weight, but hasn’t observed it.

On her teammates, Aliya feels comfortable with Alla Sosnitskaya, Daria Spiridonova and Maria Kharenkova. “They’re really nice to be around, they’re not jealous and they don’t say mean things. I want to help them. I help, they listen, and it’s really pleasant for me.”

Aliya likes to read. She read three books during Worlds. The last one was an Italian novel. When she drives home from Krugloe, she listens to every single song she has on her phone. She is really not picky but not when it comes to food: she hates boiled/fried onion. If the food contains it, she will not eat it.


Photo by Silvia Vatteroni
Regarding her foot, everything is ok , but she feels pain in other body parts. She has been suffering from back pain for two and a half years already. At this championship the pain was even stronger. Before team finals she thought that she couldn’t compete because of the pain. She is not protecting her foot, but when she feels she will not do an element the right way, then she won’t perfom it. It’s all about intuition:” I perform elements when I am 100% sure that I will perform it correctly and not injure myself. “

The night before the individual al around she caught a cold, had temperature and during training was unable to perform. She took pills to cure the cold. During all around finals, she was shaking and doesn’t even remember her floor performance. The next day, during uneven bars finals her eyes were watery, wanted to clean them but couldn’t do anything because of the make-up.” When I was preparing the bar, I couldn’t see anything because of the water in the eyes.”

This year results at Worlds belong to a critical period in her preparation. It was a daily accumulation of tiredness. But she has to pass through this and be in a good shape for Rio in 2016.

Article is based on an interview Aliya Mustafina gave to mk.ru after Nanning.
Written by Anastasia Bostanaru
Axact

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