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Aliya Mustafina: 'I love children too much to be a coach' - Elena Vaitsekhovskaya interview

Aliya Mustafina at a recent event to celebrate Gymnastics Day in Moscow.  Courtesy RGF.

Via Sports Express :
This is a summary/paraphrase of the original interview.

- It seems to me that you have matured greatly since ...

- Rather, I have just learned to work independently, without relying on anyone. 

- To be left without a coach in a sport like gymnastics, is not the simplest test for an athlete.

- First it really was very hard. I could not force myself to work and for a long time was unsettled.

- In a recent interview, you said: "you need to give yourself to this sport, and not perceive it as servitude and abuse". Do you think that way?

- Yes. It was just a year ago. I started to train every day and thought: why do I need it? Everything hurts, everything goes wrong. This went on until I had the surgery to clean my joint. It was then that I realized a simple thing: If you want to continue to train and serve, you just have to love everything that  you do. First of all, you have to change your own consciousness.

- It was a painful process?

- No. I just told myself I would not do it because I have to, but because I like it. And everything fell into place. I really really like gymnastics.  I was thinking about it too much before, and was cheating myself.

- A year ago, Alexandrov went to Brazil, and you broke up with him.

- I never wanted this to happen.  At that time there was a situation that we both understood: Alexandrov couldn't coach me if he didn't have charge of the team.  Alexander Sergeivich then said it would be better for me if he left.

- After the London Games, I remember your coach saying that you both needed to think carefully before you decided to continue to work together. 

- Well, yes.  We thought about it for a long time.

- How did things go at the World Championships in Nanning?

- Those people who said I hadn't increased the difficulty of my programmes were absolutely right. One Olympic gold medal is certainly nice. But just because one medal is already hanging around your neck, no one will give you a second.  I perfectly understand that I will need to complicate things, if I decide to compete in Rio de Janeiro. 

Throughout 2013, I followed a well beaten track - probably, that's OK: it is always hard to start a new Olympic cycle, knowing that four years of hard work are ahead. In addition, I continued to continuously perform at competitions.  My competition training would have been disrupted if I had tried to learn something new, although I was training some new things, just not using them in competition.  

- The 2013 season ended when you became the world champion on the balance beam.

- It was a miracle. In Antwerp, I had a fairly simple exercise, into which I had not added any new moves. And I am well aware that it is unlikely that such luck will ever happen again. So after the Championships I first started working increasing the complexity of the balance beam. Just then suddenly things became very hard.

- What was the problem?

- Probably, that after the Games in London I was really never able to relax. And on top of that fatigue there were too many competitions. I even thought about finishing my career and doing something different. In the end I found a compromise with the coaches: a month and a half of rest.

When I returned to the gym, I tried to at least restore my previous combinations. It almost happened, but I had a very painful leg, the same one on which I had an operation in 2011.  And it was a strange problem: after each difficulty I had to wait a few minutes for the joint to regain mobility. That is, I couldn't really tumble. And beam dismounts turned into infernal torment.

Then I was sent to Germany and there underwent surgery.  Only four weeks after that I started to slowly recover my programme. But before the World Championships there was too little time to think about adding difficulty.

- Maybe you should just not have competed in all those competitions, over the past two years?  

- No one is forced to do that. I just like to compete, like helping the team. If I didn't want to go to some kind of competition, no one could make me.

- You said after the World Champiinships, that you intend to look for a personal coach, by chance do you imply your intent to leave to train in Brazil with Alexandrov?

- No, I'm not leaving Russia.  This subject is complicated ... Things go very well at "Round", but I perfectly understand that Raisa Maksimovna Ganina is more of a choreographer.  Her pieces are floor exercise, balance beam. On the other apparatus I don't know.  I still can't find a person like Alexandrov, and even if I do it will take us both time to adjust, and I will lose time unjustifiably.  Therefore we have decided to leave things as they are with Ganina for the moment.   

- What specific plans do you have for increasing the complexity of your programmes?

- By the way, I never had a rest after the World Cup, I came to the gym on the day after returning from China.  With Raisa I am trying new moves on the balance beam.

-  Just two years ago you were a trendsetter on the uneven bars, and now your work is pretty much the norm.  Does this hurt? 

- No. I knew that my old combination was good for the past Olympic cycle. Now, too many rules have changed, it isn't enough.

- How realistic, by the way, would it be to match the complexity of the current world champion Yao Ziyi? In other words, can the Chinese woman do things that you can't?

- She doesn't do anything special [for a Chinese gymnast].  In China by tradition the gymnasts perform well on the uneven bars.  [She goes on to explain that the Chinese specialise in "turntables", while the Russian specialism is transitions from the bottom to the top bar.]

- Why transitions?

- We call this the Shaposhnikova flight.  Since London the connections between the elements have  been devalued. Other moves [the "turntables"] have increased in value.  The only gymnasts who weren't hurt by this were the Americans.  Sometimes there is a feeling that the rules were purposely made for them.  In London I had a D value of around seven, along with Beth Tweddle, a Chinese gymnast, and Vika Komova, while the American women had around six.  Now their D values have remained at about the same, while the rest of us have fallen to their level.

It is realistic to get close to Yao Ziyi's difficulty, I just need to work on it. I need to focus on the uneven bars because on beam anything can happen.

- What is stopping you increasing the complexity of your vault? Fear of injury?

- It's not about fear. Just after the injury I couldn't tumble and had to wait for things to heal.  For example, I have had two and a half years of back ache - physiotherapy, nothing helps - it only gets worse. I can do the double twisting Yurchenko with no problems. But there is no 2.5.

- Floor exercise - is it the same problem?

- Partly, yes.  But there I have my own strategy - choreography.

- Is it possible to cover the acrobatic gaps with choreography?

- Easily.   I now have a group of "e", two groups of "d" and a "c" difficulty acrobatic combination. And my choreography gives two group "e", group "d" and "c".

- Do you want to say that your choreography is harder than the acrobatics?

- Yes. Although I would not say that I have a weak acrobatics.

- You still want to place emphasis on the all-around?

- Yes. The rule is that you can only call yourself an all arounder if you have at least two strong events and can contend all around and two event finals.   

- How have you changed since becoming Olympic champion?

- I have more responsibility. People who watch gymnastics, absolutely do not care about how many medals we have.   It is just about the impression you make on the podium.  At first I was annoyed by this sense of responsibility, but now I don't think about it at all.  I just realize that I have two years left to serve, to make sure I have no regrets.

- With whom do you consult, if you feel the need?

- I'm always talking to my Dad.  In competition I do not need anyone's support.

- Do you spend most of your time at Round Lake?

- No. Since I got my car, I always go home for the weekend, and during the week when I have only one workout, I will go home.  Psychologically things have become much easier, the feeling that you are bound hand and foot to Round Lake has disappeared.  I passed my driving test, then dad rode with me a couple of times in Moscow, made sure that I can drive safely, then I bought my car.

- And where was the first place you went?

- "Round", of course.

- In which team you were more comfortable - the one where several of your contemporaries compete, as it was in London, or with very young athletes in Nanning?

- I find it easier with the youngsters.  I like to help them, and they like that I am helping. With them I don't get tired of competitions. 

- If we do not take into account sport, what has changed in your life since the Olympics?

- I have no other life than sports, by and large. I understand very well that if you continue seriously with gymnastics there is not much else you can do. Even school. Of course, I am a student at the University, but it is incredible work.

- And what would like to do after Rio?

- I will always have at least one option - to become a coach.. But I love children too much to require from them what is needed in gymnastics. Not so long ago we discussed this topic and came to the conclusion that someone who doesn't like children is much more likely to become a good coach in our sport. 

- You are not going to argue that you don't like your own father? [Mustafina's father is a coach in Greco-Roman wrestling.). But he, as far as I know, has always been on the side of Alexandrov, when you worked with this person.

- Rather, dad was just very worried for Alexandrov, knowing my character. I've never tried coaching, it may well be that I will succeed. But I try not to think about it. It is clear that such thoughts still periodically come to mind: how can I live without training, no gymnastics? 

- You want to be Olympic champion?

- I was Olympic champion two years ago. This is all forgotten.  If I can't surprise people with my performances again and fight for the win, why continue? I'm not the type of person who travels to competitions just to tread water.


  1. I LOVE her final statement! Lets everyone know that her competitive mindset (which I somewhat felt was somewhat missing at worlds) is still there! She won't settle for just any medal; rather, she is going for gold! That kind of mindset will make her competitive for gold once again.

    I feel she should just stay with the double twister for this next world championships; she should definitely work hard on the UB because with her execution, that's were she can make up ground by adding more difficult skills than even what she had in London (which would only be 6.7 now). As for Balance Beam and Floor what she really needs is Consistency! Her Beam is extremely strong if she hit her 6.6/6.7 SV (which she more or less hit at the Russian cup but not at the WC) and Her floor with the two whips and stag leap out of he Arabian plus her Triple Y and Quadruple spin will be more than enough; she just once again is in desperate need for consistency.

    Maybe a way to solve this by competing the skills she struggles on for Ex the triple Y and pretty much all her beam combination and compete them all Year long to gain consistency. The Americans are always competing Full difficulty at their championships and clearly their strategy is working extremely well.

    All In all If she can remain healthy, fit, add consistency to her current program and increase her SV on UB, she will be in the running for medals and a strong UB routine or full difficulty beam routine could definitely content for Gold in Rio.

  2. Aliya Mustafina is really great. I think she is very mature for her age. Simply, I love her ... Despite what she said in the interview, I believe that after her retirement, she will be coach. It is something natural that she brings with her. She can naturalmente inspiring trust, support, encourage, train the teammatesher. Coaching is something that will be on her way. And all her fans will love her моre.
    I think she is doing great decisions very wisely. I don´t know if another coach now, she would increase her difficult score or there would be a shock what she had learned to Alexandrov. Maybe, it will be better (wise) staying with Ganina to FX and BB, and trying to increase her UB routine with the head coach or another coach specialist in coaching UB and VT. In Round Lake, there are very good coaches.

  3. Great interview. She has matured a lot. It sucks about her coaching situation but if Raisa does FX and BB then maybe the specialist for uneven bars can help her with that.

    I think she might be a coach but if not she might do some behind the scenes thing for gymnastics. However, as she said, she might not be able to be demanding as a coach to the kids. Also I think this is the first interview I've read where Alexandrov was mentioned. Hopefully they keep in touch from time to time.

    I laughed at this question "You are not going to argue that you don't like your own father? [Mustafina's father is a coach in Greco-Roman wrestling.)" lol.

    I wish her all the best. Hopefully she can add to her difficulty and do well for the next 2 years.

  4. In some parts of the interview she says she is exhausted, with pain everywhere. Still, good to know from her that she was not forced into competing...
    Something that is not clear is why she could not perform the UB routine from Antwerp.
    I think she needs the rest of the Russian gymnasts to push her at Round Lake. Let's hope that Komova remains fit for a while...

  5. A most impressive and candid interview. It's extraordinary she has kept herself in the mix for medals despite not having a personal coach micro-managing all aspects of her training. And also the niggling injuries...the details of which explain a lot about the performances we have seen since her return from the ACL injury. Sad to hear about the back problem and hope she can continue to work her skills around it and enjoy her gymnastics as much as we enjoy watching her. Few sports have as few international competitions that matter and such short careers as gymnastics and it must be so hard to temper the desire to show what you can do at every opportunity with the need to keep improving, peak at worlds/Olympics and avoid injury - totally understandable she wanted/wants to compete. So it seems these could be the last two years - at least doing the AA...I kinda hope she can follow a little further in the footsteps of Afanasyeva/Ponor/Izbasa/Tweddle/Ferrari. I think it is too late to really replace Alexandrov before Rio but that's up to her, anyone new would always be the deputy coach after Aliya anyway. I hope she gets the help she needs for bars and tumbling/vault - the whip whip arabian shows she's still got the power.

  6. The comments about the change in the Code for UB seem to follow Andrei Rodionenko's approach. Justs excuses?

    1. Blame that on the translation, not Aliya. She is merely observing how the changes have influenced different gymnasts - no conspiracy suggested! Aliya isn't the type to make excuses :-)

    2. Really? Now is everything going to be an excuse? Isn't a fact that their D scores went down after the change? They were affected by this and in my opinion they better start finding ways to get their UB scores higher.

    3. Absolutely agree. Clearly, so does Mustafina.

  7. China is an example of success in this field. Their D score on bars are greatly affected due to the change in connection bonus in the new code. Yet, they (Coach Wang) can still find a way out and create a routine with 6.8 or 6.9 D score (Huang and Yao). In Russia's case, neither the gymnast nor the code is to be blamed, but the coach or the lack of coaching decision. Gymnasts are already under high pressure, it is not a wise thing to ask them create their routine. Rather, they ought to master the routine prepared for them. Aliya truly deserve our respect, as she can still achieve outstanding results with no coach. I hope this talented gymnast can find a suitable coach, preferably the return of Alexander (though I know that would only be in my dream), or the coach of other Russian gymnasts (Queen Elizabeth, is it possible that they share the same coach?) so that she can achieve even more in Rio.

    1. To be honest, I despair ... Not even Tourischeva, Boguinskaia, Shushunova, produced their careers without the help of a coach. What is Aliya saying here? That she needs to upgrade and hasn't done so over the past two years because she has been too busy either rehabbing injuries or preparing for competitions. That Ganina can only help her on beam, and floor choreography but that she needs help with tumbling, vault and bars. That there is no one to help her. In other words, there is no coaching strategy and she is alone in her attempts to win gold for Russia in Rio. Russia's greatest gymnastics talent in Russia's history is being allowed potentially to come to nought because the Head Coaches of the team are too proud to allow their leading prospect to be coached by someone they don't like and find threatening, or anyone with sufficient skill and ambition to want to have their own head.

      It is a crime against gymnastics if this situation is allowed to continue. I only hope that this interview is a statement, a step on the way to securing the support at the highest level that Aliya needs to make the arrangements she needs to structure her work and find the discipline she needs to be able to realise her full potential.

      I honestly believe that her only chance at this late stage is to return to Alexandrov. Obviously the option of training with him in Brazil has been discussed. For now the situation is that Aliya won't go. Aliya says this is because she loves Russia, but this implies that a choice between Brazil or Russia is being forced, and it doesn't have to be this way. For example, British athlete Mo Farah trains for most of the year in the United States, yet still contributes as a team captain to the British athletics team.

      My guess is that Aliya would be able to use Alexandrov as a master coach to draw up her overall strategy without having to turn her back on Russia (which I know she would never do). She could visit him for regular clinics and she and Ganina could follow his plan daily while back in Moscow. But that would require Rodionenko to swallow his pride and sign the authorisation. My guess is that he just isn't big enough to do this, and that his needs are overriding those of his athlete. If this situation remains the same for even just a few more weeks, I think Aliya can wave bye bye to gold in Rio. If there were a coach in Moscow who could support her, Aliya would already be working with him or her. I keep thinking that Razumovsky (Mikhailova/Grishina) would be a good choice, but there is no sign of any movement in this direction.

      Two things. Firstly, in the floor EF in Nanning Aliya upgraded her tumbling by using whip somersaults to accelerate and improve her double Arabian as well as increase her D score. This technique is a signature of Alexandrov. Secondly, Vaitsekhovskaya is the only Russian journalist to whom Alexandrov has spoken in any depth about his problems on the Russian team. She is the only one who is taking a critical view of the political situation on the Russian team. And now she has an interview with Mustafina about her coaching arrangements. I feel the presence of an invisible hand and I hope that for Mustafina's and for Russia's sake that that hand can grow stronger and ever more visible.

      Only my thoughts. Just common sense. Natural justice should prevail, or all will be lost.


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