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Armour: Mustafina Happy to be Role Model for Gymnasts, Moms

Russia's Aliya Mustafina performs on the floor during qualifying sessions for the Gymnastics World Chamionships at the Aspire Dome in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. Photo: AP/Vadim Ghirda

By Nancy Armour |

Aliya Mustafina has always done what she wants.

You think having a baby is going to change that?

Just 16 months after giving birth to daughter Alisa, the Russian is back at the world gymnastics championships. She helped the Russians finish second in qualifying.

“I’m very happy,” Mustafina said. “I was missing the emotions, the equipment, the girls, everything.”

Mustafina has always been one of gymnastics’ great personalities. She is fabulously talented, a two-time Olympic champion on uneven bars and two-time bronze medalist in the all-around. She is also a fabulous diva, once losing a meet because she ignored her coach’s suggestion that she water down her floor routine.

She has always seemed to revel in her icy appeal, the hint of a smirk behind her trademark glares.

So you can imagine how little she cares for those who have questioned and even criticized her decision to return to competition.

“When you become a mother, your life doesn’t end,” Mustafina said. “If there’s a thing you can do that gives you pleasure, you do it.”

Especially when you do it as well as she does.

Mustafina posted Russia’s highest score on uneven bars, a 14.433 that qualified her for the event final, and had the second-best score on balance beam.

More than that, the 24-year-old was a steadying presence for a young Russian team that has endured no shortage of upheaval because of injuries.

“She’s such a leader,” said 16-year-old Irina Alexeeva, who is competing in her first major international competition at these worlds. “She’ll tell everybody, ‘Calm down, it’s OK.’ Sometimes we’ll be doing routines and she’ll just be talking about it. She knows we’re new, but she’s done it so many times.”

Mustafina said she enjoys this role, and it’s one that comes naturally to her.

“I’ve always had girls younger than me on the team, and I like that,” she said. “I support them and I try to guide them. I’ve become more calm.”

While juggling a career and motherhood is a challenge for anyone, Mustafina said she’s been lucky. Her mother helps her out, and is watching her daughter while she’s at worlds.

Asked if she’ll bring her daughter to the gym when she’s older, Mustafina said yes — with a qualifier.

“If my mom will allow me,” she said.

Good luck to anyone who tries to tell Mustafina what to do.

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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