PROSPORT profiles Russia’s Olympic hopefuls, three months before the Games begin.
Aliya Mustafina, 17 years old.
ACHIEVEMENTS. 2010 World All-Around Champion (she earned a team gold and three silvers – on floor, vault and bars – at the same competition), seriously injured at the 2011 European Championships where she tore her ACL and subsequently missed the rest of the season. All-Around Russian National Champion in 2012.
STYLE. Confident in herself, a real fighter who loves competing. Her gymnastics became more athletic after her injury, and her coaches are trying to bring back her former femininity.
QUOTES. “My family doesn’t really dig into gymnastics. Sometimes I might ask dad about something and he will give me some advice. And he doesn’t really give advice so much as real help. I can call him and say: this hurts. And he’ll tell me what to do about it to make it go away”.
“The hardest thing is to force yourself to to go to workout every day. It’s not physically hard, it’s psychologically hard. Sometimes so are dead tired. Every day, two workouts a day and nothing else. You train eat and sleep. But that’s what you have to do and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
“I don’t like to be the centre of attention. I don’t notice it when I am on the podium competing, but in regular life it’s a bit unnerving when you have to talk about yourself.”
“When I got injured at European Championships, I knew right away that my leg wasn’t just going to hurt for two weeks and then get better. But until they performed the MRI, I didn’t think it was that serious. But I decided right away that I would return.”
Viktoriya Komova, 17 years old.
ACHIEVEMENTS. Silver medalist at the 2011 World Championships (losing to the American Jordyn Wieber by just 0.033 points) in the All-Around, but best on bars.
SPECIALIZATION. All-Around, Uneven Bars.
STYLE. A pretty, lithe, floating gymnast. Komova has a strong routine on bars. She does not have the highest difficulty on balance beam, but she performs it flawlessly. For example, she easily stands her Arabian (a difficult salto skill) at full height, like on floor while most other gymnasts land lower.
QUOTES. “I get really intense when I see the American gymnasts. I’m ready to rip them apart”.
“I’m not shy around my friends, but I’m not comfortable with strangers in public. And I don’t like to toot my own horn.”
“I use social media a lot. A lot of people write nice things there, including guys. But I’m not thinking about going on any dates and I don’t feel a need to yet.”
“I used to envy kids my own age. They’re out there having fun and not having to train. But now I understand that many of them don’t have what I have. For example, an income. I can already provide for myself. And they are sitting their hanging on their parents necks.”
“My coach has taught me from childhood: you can never give up. And I live by the motto — Always go froward and by patient. I might give up in training, but never ever ever give up in competition. Sometimes I lose, but I hate losing”.
Anastasiya Grishina, 16 years old.
ACHIEVEMENTS. Three-time European Junior Champion (2010), won six medals at the seniors Russian National Championships in 2012 (including two golds).
STYLE. An emotional, light and technically precise gymnast. She is equally good on all events her only weak spot is a lack of experience at big meets.
QUOTES. “My mother helps me in everything: she lives with me at Round Lake, and travels to meets and helps with my homework. A lot of people didn’t like that at first, but now they are used to it.”
“They took me to figure skating when I was seven, but they thought I as too old there and not right for them. A gymnastics coach told me to try gymnastics. When I started in the group, the other girls had already competed at Moscow Championships, and I had to catch up quick.”
“They recently started on-line studies at my school. There’s an electronic book and my mother gets SMS’s with my grades. THey send homework on-line as well. It’s really nice! but it’s easier to study in class: if you didn’t do your homework, you can copy from someone else. But I have to do everything on my own.”
“I try to never get mad at anyone. That’s a sin, you just can’t be mean to people.”
Kseniya Afanasyeva, 20 years old.
ACHIEVEMENTS. 2010 World Champion (team) and winner of the floor exercise final at the 2011 World Championships.
SPECIALIZATION. Floor exercise, balance beam.
STYLE. The fluid, graceful Afanasyeva seems to paint her routines. She knows her abilities very well and knows how to show off her strong points while hiding her weak ones.
QUOTES. “The coaches call me grandma. Well, whatever. I just don’t like it when they call me Afonya. When I was little, that was okay, but it grates me now. I’m a grown girl and they keep saying, “Afonya, Afonya”, I tell the girls in the team to call me Ksyusha.”
“I’m probably a bit egotistical. I’ve had a mean streak since I was a kid. And it gets worse the older I get. Some people call me heartless, even my mother sometimes. I’ve stopped feeling for anyone else in sport. But being heartess i sport is good, but as far as in like, well, I don’t know…”
“I don;t like to cry in the gym. I hardly even happens and when I does, that means people have just go to me. A lot of girls cry over nothing, I guess that’s a child’s instinct. Any fall — and they have tears. I’m not like that, I just can’t do that.”
“I dreamed of being a rhythmic gymnast when I was young. But I didn’t end up there. And now I tell everyone I hate rhythmic gymnastics, even though I know in my heart that I love it. I’m just envious. They have such great figures, lines and splits and they do everything so prettily. But if I’d ended up in RG, I wouldn’t have become world champion on floor exercise.”
Anastasiya Sidorova, 15 years old.
ACHIEVEMENTS. Sidorova won a gold in the team final at European Championships when she was 13. She also won a bronze on floor exercise. Since then, she has had injury after injury.
SPECIALIZATION. Vault, floor exercise, balance beam.
STYLE. Anastasiya has a crazy drive to work and her tumbling is powerful like the Americans. An Amanar vault is her ace to London. She doesn’t like bars, but she has hard routines on balance beam and floor.
QUOTES. “In Volgograd where I was born, there was no good gym. I had to move to Rostov. Alone and without my mother. I was only eight years old. Six months later the tears were flowing and I was begging to go back. but my parents convinced me to stay. And now I can’t imagine what I’d do without gymnastics.”
“I have a complicated personality. I can be hard to handle; my coach is the only one who can handle me sometimes. I was softer before. I guess I’ve grown up.
“I wasn’t always able to make friends with the other girls in Rostov. When I started winning, the pressure was on and they tried to undermine me, start rumours. Once they even gave me the silent treatment. But I fought through it. There are no problems like that here, in the national team. We have a friendly team. I stuck out back home, but here everyone is equal.”
“I love to study, I have all fives up to the seventh form and even now I don’t have any threes. My favourite subject is Algebra. And I love to read, especially poetry. Pushkin.”
Russia’s main rivals.
The medals in London are most likely to be divided up between Russia, China and the USA. The reliable, athletic Americans and their leader Jordyn Wieber plan to repeat their 2011 world championship team victory. The Russians were four points behind them then, losing on beam and vault.
The Chinese should be feared, too. But which one of them exactly – no-one knows. In Beijing, the team gold and a slew of individual medals were taken by gymnasts no-one knew. Perhaps the Chinese will bring new starts to London, but they’ll be good no matter who they are.