Aliya Mustafina: ''There is no harassment in Russian gymnastics''

Interview with two-time Olympic champion in artistic gymnastics

After two victories at Olympics in a row, Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina went on a holiday she deserved. However, giving birth to Alisa, the athlete decided to return to sport and began hard training with a goal to 2020 Tokyo last September. The comeback was successful, in general – Alina won the Championship of Russia in team event in Kazan in the first performances after maternity leave. But this victory was more expensive than she would like, and now Mustafina is waiting for a verdict about the injured knee. In an interview to Realnoe Vremya, the gymnast told how the recovery was going, her former rivals and her national self-identification.

''I will certainly miss the Russian Cup due to the injury''

I can't help but ask, how are you doing?

I have a knee injury, but I feel good. Will I participate in the Russian Cup? I don't think.

Everybody guessed where you were in May. Or you were in Croatia or you didn't go there, or you were in Germany or in Penza. And now you seem to be in Moscow. Where is the truth?

I didn't go to Croatia, I trained in Penza. There are good training conditions there. And we sent the knee X-rays to Germany to show them to doctors.

What is the most difficult thing after coming back to the hall? Didn't you feel any hopelessness when you couldn't perform the basic elements? Didn't you have a desire to give all up?

No, I didn't want to give up. I knew it would be hard. I can't stress a certain difficult moment. Everything was difficult, but not so difficult to stop going on.

You didn't have much free time due to the preparation. How often do you manage to have a rest? And how does it usually happen?

Depending on what is considered as a rest. For instance, we have a rest between training – lunch and sleep.

''It doesn't restrain me at all. Neither does it probably inspire. I even don't know what to reply. I am just opening something new for myself.'' Photo: instagram.com/musaliya135

''I will prove myself and others one can come back after childbirth''

You are the only mother in today's artistic gymnastics excluding Chusovitina. Does it inspire or restrain you?

It doesn't restrain me at all. Neither does it probably inspire. I even don't know what to reply. I am just opening something new for myself. And if I manage to recover completely, it means I will prove myself and others one can come back after childbirth, it's possible.

You've recently created an Instagram account for your 11-month daughter. How did the idea come to your mind?

Actually, I came to it gradually. Not for all 11 months, of course. You use your phone, there are many photos there that simply do nothing. I thought it would be interesting for my fans to know how my daughter looked, how she was growing. So I decided to create an account for her.

Denis Ablyazin followed your example and created an account for his child. Was it you who advised him?

I will say to you it's not Denis but his wife created it. I didn't advise anybody, it's their own business. Somebody wants to create, somebody doesn't. Though it's quite possible they followed my example.

The support of the family is very important for parents during the first months. Who supported you most?

My mother who helps a lot is always with me. Probably nothing would be possible without her support.

In one of your interviews, you said she even retired because of that.

In general, she hadn't been working previously. While she was a teacher.

Now your daughter is staying with your parents for the whole summer. Do you already miss her? Isn't it more difficult without her than being with her?

I miss her, of course! But she is with my parents, I trust them. This is why it's not so hard for me.

''My coach waited for my comeback to the hall very much. In general, I've never had a desire to give up artistic gymnastics.'' Photo: Е. Mikhailova/ sportgymrus.ru

''Much turns on the psyche''

Who helped you most in your formation as an athlete?

It's absolutely all coaches who are working with me now. My coach waited for my comeback to the hall very much. In general, I've never had a desire to give up artistic gymnastics.

Rebecca Bross was considered your major rival at the junior level. But you took the lead at the senior level. How did you do it?

Perhaps, thanks to programmes and working on myself. It's difficult to say. I improved the basics well then.

Were you in the championship she injured her knee in?

It seems to be the US Championship, a domestic tournament.

But she couldn't come back after that.

Not everybody can come back after such injuries.

But there is your example too, how you won at the Olympics one year after the knee injury.

There is, but this doesn't mean everybody should do so. Somebody finds it easier, somebody – more complicated, while others simply don't want to go on. This all is awful, but much turns on the psyche. Somebody starts to worry very much, while somebody doesn't care at all.

''Doping? Biles was stronger than others''

Your father answering the question why he took your to gymnastics told a story how you slept with a raised arm due to a cut when you were little. What's that?

Self-control.

Is it possible to say that this quality is more important in competitions than others?

No, I wouldn't say so. Gymnastics is rather a set of all qualities.

''I think she is an athlete who won many competitions. I try not to talk about what has already passed.'' Photo: Danilo Borges/brasil2016.gov.br

The capability to control your emotions, concentration of attention – this all is very important for a gymnast, right?

It's important in any case. You won't succeed with control without preparation and muscles only.

What's your attitude to Simone Biles? In 2016, she admitted to take psychostimulant drugs and was tested positive but wasn't disqualified for doping. Why? These drugs gave her an advantage.

I think she is an athlete who won many competitions. I try not to talk about what has already passed. Probably this is why she was a bit stronger than others. Apart from this, she has quite a strong programme, it's impossible to perform these elements with concentration only.

Is it normal she supports clean sport and at the same time took substances making her stronger than others?

I don't want to talk about her. I try not to discuss such affairs, in general.

Same Biles has recently claimed the national team's doctor abused her. Our biathlonist has recently said about her coach's harassment. What do you think the state of affairs is in gymnastics? Is it a big problem?

There isn't such a problem in Russia.

So shouldn't we wait for such statements from our gymnasts?

No.

''I'm half Tatar. I consider myself Russian''

Are you ethnic Tatar?

By half, I'm Russian. I consider myself Russian.

Do you often visit your father's homeland in Maly Rybushkin?

In summer.

Do you know Tatar cuisine?

Probably, just partly. I don't cook myself.

''I tasted only chak-chak, triangles''. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Can you note your favourite dish?

I tasted only chak-chak, triangles. As for Tatar music, I tried to listen to it but I didn't like much.

You father is a world champion in wrestling and did all kinds of fights. Do you know kuresh? Did he often win at Sabantuys?

No, I don't know this sport. I've been at Sabantuy only once, in Moscow, but not for long.

''If Zagitova is strong, she will handle it''

At 15, you weren't allowed to the World Championship you deserved due to age limit. Can anything similar happen to Alina Zagitova now? How can you comment on this?

If not this year, she will go next year. The case wasn't I wasn't allowed to the competition. I understood from the beginning I was too young. And I even didn't prepare for the World Championship because I was little.

The situation with Zagitova turns out to hurt more because she's already an Olympic champion.

It maybe hurts more, but nothing can be done here. If Alina is strong, she will handle it. I believe she will do it.

After Zagitova lost the World Championship, Kabayeva called and supported her. Didn't you talk with Alina?

No, we don't know each other.

What can you say to Zagitova to support if she is temporarily suspended from senior competitions?

The suspension is a bit different. But age limits will affect everybody, right?

But this will hit Russia and, first of all, Zagitova most.

Here we should distinguish, it's not a suspension because when it's a suspension, the athlete is prohibited even to train. And an athlete has to adapt whether the suspension is correct or not.

''When I had a chance to go to a football match, I was at Spartak's stadium. And I liked the atmosphere there.'' spartak.com

''CSKA? I support Spartak''

You like football, right? Whom do you support?

Spartak.

How did it happen that CSKA's pupil supports Spartak?

When I had a chance to go to a football match, I was at Spartak's stadium. And I liked the atmosphere there. I rarely go to matches.

Who is your favourite football player at Spartak?

I don't have favourite football players. I don't know the players and the coach in person. But I know Carrera and Romantsev, of course.

By Zulfat Shafigullin
Tatarstan