Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina has accomplished nearly everything in her sport: having claimed multiple Olympic, World, and European gold medals.
Yet, her drive for glory at the Tokyo Olympics kept her going when an exit on top could have been the easy choice.
“When I could retire on a high note, I didn’t do it. After London, after Rio, after the Worlds in Qatar… I could retire in those moments,” she said during a recent interview with Match TV and translated by Gymnovsti.
“But I was so focused on the Tokyo Olympics, I couldn’t think about anything else,” the 25-year-old added.
Finding her form after Rio, childbirth
The two-time defending Olympic champion on the uneven bars, Mustafina stepped away from the sport in 2017 before giving birth to her daughter Alisa.
But the Russian star returned to artistic gymnastics competition in 2018, helping her team to a silver medal at the World Championships in Doha. There, she qualified to the final of her signature event, the uneven bars, finishing out of the medals in fifth.
Though her participation in 2018 signaled a return to prominence, Mustafina’s 2019 was met with obstacles.
She opened her season well, competing three times in March. She finished third at the Russian National Championships and the Stuttgart World Cup, before taking gold at the Birmingham World Cup.
But, then, the wheels started to fall off, as she was added and then removed from the Russian team for the European Championships. She had intended to compete at the Minsk European Games in June, but an ankle injury forced her to withdraw from the event.
That adversity did not seem to deter Mustafina, who told Olympic Channel at August’s Russian Cup she hoped to take some time off before returning to pursue a third Olympic Games.
"At the moment, I choose to find myself physically, mentally, to rest a little. I want to start my way to Tokyo with a brand new energy," she said.
That rest, she admitted to MatchTV, was almost total, as the 2010 World all-around champion missed the 2019 edition.
She's just now starting to work back to the form that earned her seven Olympic medals and 12 at the World Championships.
“Can I get into the shape I had in 2012? Yes. And get even better,” she said.
Betting against the Moscovite is not advised, as she has defied the odds more than once in career. After missing the 2011 season with an ACL injury, she returned to form in time to win four medals.
Likewise, back pain kept her out of the 2015 World Championships and much of the early 2016 season. But in Rio, she defended her 2012 uneven bars gold and all-around bronze medals.
“Everything is possible, as long as you want it,” said Mustafina.