Mustafina’s Injury and What it Means for her, the Sport and her Team
Aliya Mustafina’s injury, sustained at the European Championships on vault, is a torn cruciate ligament. She will have surgery tomorrow, April 12th. The 2011 World Championships are six months from her surgery, and it has been reported that she will miss them. This will make the sport less exciting, as Mustafina was always the gymnast who showed up with surprising new skills at competitions. She is also one of the most complete all around gymnasts in years, and the first to qualify to all of the event finals at the World Championships since Svetlana Khorkina. It makes the list for legitimate gold medal contenders at worlds shorter, and depletes the field for event finals.
For Mustafina’s career, however, I believe that it was lucky that this injury occurred at this point. Mustafina’s ultimate goal is to be olympic champion, not 2011 world champion. Sure, it would be exciting to become the first gymnast to win two world all around titles in a row since Svetlana Khorkina, but it would be just as exciting to become the first gymnast to win a world and olympic all around title since Lilia Podkopayeva. If this injury had occurred at worlds, Mustafina’s chance at being ready to compete in London would be significantly lower, since she would have six months less of recovery time. According to IG, Russian head coach Alexander Alexandrov said the following:
“Doctors have promised that everything will be fine. It’s just hard to get through the rehabilitation period, because the recovery from these surgeries is almost more important than the surgery itself. In any case, it is already clear that Mustafina will miss the world championships like she missed the European championships. But this is not so bad: before the Olympic Games there will be yet another Europeans. Getting competition experience again is so important — once she has recovered.”
This seems to imply that there is not only a good chance that Mustafina will recover for the Olympic Games, but that there is also a good chance that her next major competition will be the 2012 European Championships which will be held in Brussels in May. I do not know if Mustafina will ever regain the level of difficulty that she is competing now; the excessive twisting may be too much for her knee to handle. It has always seemed like a good idea for her to perform more double saltos due to her questionable twisting form, so while her routines may need to be reconstructed, she can improve on her execution.
The big question mark to me is her Amanar, which is pretty much a compulsory skill for anybody who wants to win all around gold in 2012 (although Mustafina may have enough difficulty advantage elsewhere). It would be risky to compete the skill that caused the injury in the first place when her knee is weaker. Chusovitina, who went to the same doctor for surgery on her knee after the Athens Olympics is optimistic.
“If she does surgery at the right place and has proper rehabilitation, trust me, she can vault.”
This is coming from a thirty five year old who brought back a 6.3 rated vault that she had not performed since she tore her Achillies in early 2009 a few days ago. I want to trust her and believe that Mustafina will come back better than ever, but I think we have to wait and see.
What this means for the 2011 World Championships is that Russia is losing four routines in their team finals lineup. At this point, I consider the following gymnasts locks for the team if they are healthy: Viktoria Komova, Anna Dementyeva and Tatiana Nabieva. With those three, I see this team final lineup:
Vault: Nabieva, Komova, ?
Bars: Dementyeva, Nabieva, Komova
Beam: Dementyeva, Komova, ?
Floor: Dementyeva, Komova, ?
I would have never thought Dementyeva would be doing bars and floor in team finals after last year because her routines aren’t particularly strong, but she is looking like their best option now. Everybody else who could theoretically make it is useful for one or two events, and there really is no clear answer to the hole that Russia is in at the moment. I see these gymnasts possibly contending for a spot: Ksenia Afanasyeva, Anna Pavlova, Maria Paseka, Yulia Belokobilskaya, Ksenia Semenova and Violetta Malikova. I had previously thought that some of those gymnasts would never compete internationally again, so it shows pretty much about Russia’s current situation that I would even consider considering them for worlds. Many of them haven’t even competed this season, and the ones who have haven’t looked great. Some are completely burning out. I originally included Anna Myzdrikova, Ekaterina Kurbatova and Ramilia Musina on the list, but they would need some very serious work just to contend considering what I’ve seen from recently. Here’s who I can see filling the holes:
Vault: Afanasyeva, Pavlova, Paseka, and Malikova have all competed double twisting yurchenkos in the past. Pavlova has competed an Amanar, but I have only seen her land it once and she hasn’t done it since she tore her ACL in 2008 (why do Russian gymnasts always tear their ACLs in Germany?). Although I believe Paseka is injured at the moment, she has the most potential out of these gymnasts on vault, and it has been reported that she is training a triple twisting yurchenko. Therefore, she has the best chance at having an Amanar by worlds. If she is healthy, because I really have no idea what her status is at the moment, she could have the vault spot.
Bars: I think Dementyeva, Nabieva and Komova will be Russia’s best bet, but they could also use Paseka or Malikova, or even Belokobilskaya if she cleans up a lot. She has a good amount of difficulty.
Beam: This is where it gets pretty questionable. Nabieva could always do beam, but I don’t trust her enough to go up in team finals. Afanasyeva is the same way. She is a beautiful beam worker, but I think the fact that she made beam finals at the 2008 Olympics and did not compete it in team finals says something about her consistency. Belokobilskaya is also quite inconsistent on beam, but I would have said the same thing about Dementyeva last year and look how far she’s come. Malikova is also a slight possibility; she competed a routine that was centered around turns earlier this year with a 5.9 difficulty score, and that was without a front aerial to arabian combination that she was attempting last year. The safe choice would be Semenova, whose beam work is generally unspectacular but solid. My choice is Pavlova, who has been doing some good beam routines with potential for more difficulty, and is possibly useful for more events. She is, however, not on the national team, and according to IG is considering representing Uzbekistan. Tatiana Solovyova is another beautiful beam worker who is not on the main national team.
Floor: If she can hit like she did at worlds last year, I would put Afanasyeva in this spot without a doubt. She has her problems with consistency, but if she is healthy, I think that the coaches would risk it. With Mustafina, gone, they do not have much to lose. Belokobilskaya’s medal at Europeans may increase her chance at being considered for this spot. I think her routine is pretty strong and has enough difficulty to contend. Paseka is capable of a good routine, but I have no idea if she has done any upgrading since last April. Pavlova competed a double layout recently, but who knows if that would be enough. Her 2008 routine was only worth 5.9, which would be even lower in this code of points. If she could do a routine with a double layout, whip triple, front double full into stag jump and double pike, she could easily make this lineup, but I’m not sure she would be able to do that when she was peaking, let alone now.
So here is my super early Russian team prediction, without knowing what many of the gymnasts are looking like at the moment or if they are injured: Komova, Nabieva, Dementyeva, Afanasyeva, Belokobilskaya and either Pavlova, Semenova or Paseka. That’s probably all wrong, but it seems like there will be a lot of gymnasts in contention, most of whom are really not all that useful. If Viktoria Komova does not recover from her injury in time for worlds, I do not think Russia will be on the podium.