Last year, my favorite gymnast tore her ACL while competing on the vault at a major competition. Why is this relevant, you may ask? Well, luckily for me, this gymnast happens to be a member of the Russian national gymnastics team. Not only that, but she is a two-time Russian national champion, a European medalist, and at the 2010 world championships she won one gold and three silver individual medals (the biggest medal haul of any single gymnast since Romanian Andreea Raducan in 2001), including the coveted world all-around gold medal, and led her team to its first-ever world title competing as Russia. Her name is Aliya Mustafina, and her injury at the 2011 European championships changed the landscape of the gymnastics world dramatically. I have been unbelievably fortunate to be studying in Moscow during her rehabilitation and return to gymnastics in an Olympic year, as well as during an apparent renaissance of gymnastics in Russia—and not just in terms of medals.
In December 2011, I was present as a spectator at the Dinamo Moscow gym for the Mikhail Voronin Memorial, a competition held in the same place in December each year. It was Aliya’s first competition since her injury, and I got to watch it in person.
In February 2012, I returned to Dinamo to watch the Moscow Championships. The Russian national team does not train in Moscow, at a base about an hour and a half outside Moscow called “Round Lake.” Normally, they wouldn’t bother with a competition like Moscow Championships, but this year head coach Alexander Alexandrov wanted to use it as a kind of low-pressure meet to try out upgrades and new skills. Once again, I was able to watch it, and even took video and posted it online. This doesn’t sound like a huge accomplishment, but when you take into account the fact that as recently as 2009, the Russian Gymnastics Federation was sending out angry emails and deleting YouTube channels which dared to post videos of the Russian Cup, it is something of a miracle that they have become so…understanding. Having been the only person at the meet to post videos, my YouTube channel received over 100,000 hits for the videos I recorded of the Moscow Championship.
At Aliya’s third meet since knee surgery, Russian Championships in March, she reclaimed her national title. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be there that day, but I did travel twelve hours by train to Penza to watch the event finals a few days later. Once again, a friend and I took videos and posted them online, and we have not been asked to take them down yet (not even the ones of the exhibition performances!). There Aliya also won the uneven bars title with a start value (7.0) higher than almost everyone in the world. She completed a double-twisting Yurchenko for the first time since last April and respectable balance beam and floor exercise routines which had clear room for improvement.
Being able to witness parts of Aliya’s comeback in person has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had this year. It’s an opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible had I been in the US. It will make watching her at the European Championships in May, and later at the Olympic Games in July and August that much more enjoyable. I feel as if I have had some small (miniscule) part in something great, and I will always be thankful of my year spent here in Moscow for that reason.
By: Lauren Cammenga
Term: Summer 2012