Although she has only recently received much-deserved attention in Rio, Aliya Mustafina is one of the most impressive gymnasts at the Olympics. The 21-year-old is a four-time Olympic champion who specializes in the uneven bars, and on Thursday, she took took home the bronze in the individual all-around finals. Heading into the third rotation, Mustafina posed the biggest threat to gold-medalist, Simone Biles, after scoring an impressive 15.666 on bars– .7 above Biles’ 14.966.
Read on to learn more about Aliya Mustafina.
1. She Won Bars at the 2012 London Olympics
Mustafina won the gold on bars at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She also contributed to her team placing 2nd in the team finals in both London and in Rio this summer.
Mustafina was born in Yegoryevsk, Russia. Her father— also an impressive athlete– won 3rd place in the 1976 Summer Olympics for wrestling, and her mother, Yelena Mustafina, is a physics teacher. In 2010, Mustafina won the individual all-around World Championships competition. She also took home the individual all-around gold at the 2015 European Games and the 2013 Universiade competition. In a Romper article titled, “4 Facts About Aliya Mustafina, Because The Russian Gymnast Is One to Watch”, the news outlet writes, “….U.S. fans are starting to get to know the other competitors. A few of them have pretty interesting back stories…. Aliya Mustafina [is] the Russian gymnast that’s making Team USA nervous.”
2. She’s Known For Her Intensity During Competition
Aliya wears a particularly stern expression on her face while competing– while some gymnasts enjoy letting lose and having fun while waiting for their next event, others prefer to stay in the zone. Mustafina is definitely in the latter category. Flo Gymnastics writes, “Her defiant personality and intensity in competition have earned her the title of ‘diva’ – but a more realistic depiction of Mustafina may be that she is one of the most passionate gymnasts to ever grace the Olympic stage.”
At the 2014 World Championships, the athlete seemed to change her approach to competition. WOGymnastics writes, “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.”
3. She’s a Fan of Nastia Liukin
Though she’s a powerhouse herself, Mustafina enjoys watching gymnasts with grace and eloquence . When asked by International Gymnast if she has any role models, she said, “I like Nastia Liukin (U.S.). I adore her elegant and beautiful performances with difficult elements. I like especially her graceful uneven bars and balance beam.”
Liukin is the 2008 Olympic individual all-around champion, and has served as a commentator for both men’s and women’s gymnastics in Rio this summer. In an article she wrote for Motto, Liukin states, “The last few years, I’ve done national championships and world championships—but the Olympics is a whole different ball game. Viewers tune in every four years and almost become obsessed with all of the sports. But I think gymnastics is an especially tough sport to understand if you’re not living it and breathing it every single day.”
4. She Wasn’t Cleared to Compete Until The Day Before The Opening Ceremony
Russia has made headlines recently for the The World Anti-Doping Agency’s discovery that the country had doped dozens of its athletes before the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. As of mid-July, it was unclear whether or not Russia would be banned from the Summer Olympics– after the WADA released their report, a number of anti-doping agencies requested a blanket ban on the country from the Olympic games. This, of course, carried over to gymnastics, and 21-year-old Mustafina didn’t know she would be competing in Rio until the Thursday before opening ceremony.
5. She Has Dealt With a Number of Injuries
Unfortunately, Mustafina has dealt with her fair share of injuries over the course of her gymnastics career. In 2011, she tore her ACL after landing a Yurchenko on vault, and in May of 2014, she suffered an ankle injury and was only able to compete on two events at the European Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Bulgaria. Fortunately, Mustafina performed well enough to qualify for both events at the European Championships with a 15.1 on bars and a 14.233 on beam.
In October 2015, NBC Sports revealed that Mustifana had to withdraw from the World Gymnastics Championships after struggling to overcome back injuries. Fortunately, she healed in time for Rio, and was able to conclude Thursday’s individual all-around finals with a 58.665.