Aliya Fargatovna Mustafina is the first Russian gymnast to win the coveted world all-around title since Svetlana Khorkina last did in 2003. At the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam, she also lead her team to its first ever title as an independent nation.
Born September 30, 1994, Aliya started gymnastics when her father put her in the sport at the CSKA club in her home town of Moscow. Her father Fargat won a bronze medal for Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, he also took the gold at the 1974 World Championships in Katowitce, Poland, and the 1975 World Championships in Minsk. Aliya cites her father as an inspiration and important support. “He helps me and gives me advice, especially when I am exhausted and feel I can’t go on,” she said. Her mother is a physics teacher and Aliya lists Physics and Maths as her favourite subjects at school. Younger sister Nailya, born 5 November 1996, is also a gymnast and former Russian junior national team member. “She does not train with me at our national training centre Round Lake at the moment, but I hope that is only temporarily,” Aliya commented during the 2010 World Championships.
Mustafina, called Mustafa by her team mates, had even toyed with the idea of quitting the sport altogether, but was noticed by Aleksandr Aleksandrov when he returned to Russia from the USA, where he had been coaching since the mid nineties and took the position of head coach of the women’s senior team. Aleksandrov was the last head coach of the Soviet women’s team and lead them to their last Olympic team gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. What began as a short time help, turned into a long time partnership – and a very successful one. Under Aleksandrov’s guidance, Mustafina rekindled her love for the sport and improved rapidly. “I prefer working with him, he has more experience and has found a good way to communicate with me.” An extremely strong competitor, Aliya is a reserved person who according to her coach is not always easy to work with. “Aliya is a bit sly, she already knows everything about herself,“ he told the official magazine of the Russian Artistic Gymnastics Federation GIMNASTIKA. 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.”
After having won her first all-around gold she faced journalists in the mixed zone with confidence yet a certain bemusement. Always polite, she is a woman of few words but answers questions calmly and with style. Career She first made a name for herself at the prestigious Junior International in Japan in 2007, where she won the silver medal in every event she entered. She placed behind Rebecca Bross of the USA at that event, a gymnast she would meet again at the 2010 World Championships.
In 2008 Aliya was part of the team that triumphed at the Junior European Championships in the French city of Clermont-Ferrand. The Russian juniors took the team title by a margin of 10 points. Aliya won the silver medal in the all-around competition and placed fourth on both bars and floor in the event finals. In 2009, she became Russian senior national champion but due to the FIG age regulations that do not allow gymnasts younger than sixteen to compete at international events, she was ineligible for the 2009 World and European Championships.
Her senior international début came at the 2010 French International, an FIG World Cup event, where she placed second on balance beam and fourth on uneven bars. A few weeks later, she lead her team to its first European team gold in eight years and picked up two more silver medals in the individual finals on uneven bars and balance beam. At the World Championships she took the world by storm, qualifying in first place to the all-around final as well as making all four event finals. She was the first gymnast to accomplish that feat since Svetlana Khorkina in 1997. She went on to dominate the all-around competition, winning by over a point. In the event finals, she added three more silvers on vault, uneven bars and floor exercise. In addition, she lead her team to its first victory as an independent nation. The last gymnast of the entire competition, she needed a 14.465 or higher to put Russia ahead of the USA.
Calm as ever, Aliya delivered. In 2011, she opened her season with a second place finish at the World Cup in Jacksonville, USA. Two weeks later, she won three gold medals (vault, bars and beam) at the Paris World Cup. Aliya looked set to continue her winning streak at the 2011 European Championships. She dominated the field in the qualifying competition, placing first in the all-around by almost three points and easily making the finals on all four pieces. Sadly, on her first piece of apparatus in the all-around final, she injured her knee badly on the 2 ½ twisting Yurchenko. She saluted the judges before grabbing her knee in pain. The 15.375 the judges awarded her would be the highest score of the final. Aliya was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed with a torn ACL. Aliya was back in the arena on the very next day, cheering for her team mates from the stands and supporting them throughout the rest of the competition. Only days after the European Championships she travelled to Straubing in Bavaria (Southern Germany) to have surgery. The operation was performed on 13 April by Michael Strobel, a renowned specialist in the field. Aliya was able to return to Russia three days later and has no started her road to recovery.