Legendary Russian Gymnast Aliya Mustafina Retires At Age 26

Legendary Russian Gymnast Aliya Mustafina Retires At Age 26

Renowned Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina announces her retirement at age 26.

Jun 10, 2021 by Sophia Scazzero
Legendary Russian Gymnast Aliya Mustafina Retires At Age 26

Aliya Mustafina is one of the most successful and decorated gymnasts in history and was the cornerstone of the Russian gymnastics team for almost a decade from 2010 to 2019. She was back-to-back Bars Champion at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and back-to-back Olympic team silver medalist. 

Mustafina is one of the biggest names in Russian gymnastics and the most consistent adversary to the American women’s gymnastics team. Throughout her entire career, she was the one competitor who came back year after year to defend her world champion bars title and gave the USA Women a run for their money. No other gymnast has made such a name for themselves on the international stage, and she is truly one of the all-time greats in the sport. Just yesterday, Mustafina announced her retirement at age 26 after nine years competing for Russia at the senior elite level.

While the following list of her medals may be lengthy, they are indicators of just how dominant Mustafina was in the sport, and how much of a presence she had in international competition over her entire career. She was the one who reignited Russian gymnastics after the gap Svetlana Khorkina left in 2004. She was the only international competitor with such a renowned name that, if anyone was trying to get even the slightest idea of who the main competitors on the international stage were, she was the first one to be mentioned. Every year she competed she showed a strong and remarkable performance, her choreography was always beautiful, and her bar routines were second to none. Mustafina was a formidable competitor, and on top of that, she is also part of the elite class of gymnasts who have a skill named after her. Her impact on the sport was incredibly significant, and it’s truly the sign of a new generation being ushered in as she announces her retirement.

Mustafina, born in Yegoryevsk, Russia, accrued a total of 19 World Championship and Olympic medals over her career and was most known as bars champion and gold medalist in two consecutive Olympics. She won four medals at the 2012 summer Olympics and three in 2016. She was the first gymnast in 12 years to win an all-around medal in back-to-back Olympics and is the last non-American woman to win an Olympic and World Championship all around.

She has an impressive total of seven Olympic medals over her career, over the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She has two individual golds on uneven bars, two bronze in the all-around; and two team silvers. At the 2012 London Olympics, she won gold on the uneven bars, bronze on all-around, bronze on floor, and helped Russia win silver as a team. Her total of four medals was the most of any gymnast that year and made her the most decorated athlete in any sport at that year’s Olympics except swimming.  At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she again won gold on uneven bars, bronze in the all-around behind Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, and team silver. 

Mustafina made an impression on the gymnastics world the minute she stepped on the senior elite scene. Her debut year in 2010 was legendary, at the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam, she was the first gymnast since 1996 to qualify for all-around finals and all four event finals. No one had achieved that in 14 years since both American Shannon Miller and Russian Svetlana Khorkina, two other heavyweights in gymnastics history, accomplished that at the same time in ’96. With such an impressive start, she was quickly regarded as the continuation of the great Russian gymnastics legacy, taking the torch from Khorkina, a dominant figure in the sport from 1994 to 2004 who competed in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympics, with Russia winning the team silver, silver, and bronze respectively. 

Her world championships record is impressive. Her first year she won the individual all-around and team gold, and silver on vault and uneven bars at the 2010 championships. At the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp she won gold on beam, and bronze on bars, and in the all-around, and at the Nanning 2014 Championships she won bronze on beam and helped Russia towards a team bronze. 2015, she was the European Games all-around and bars champion, and Russia won gold. In the 2016 European championships in Bern,  she was beam champion, third on bars, and the team won gold. She most recently helped Russia secure the silver medal at the Doha World Championships in 2018. And another of her most remarkable accomplishments, and the reason for her absence on the competitive scene for a year, was the birth of her daughter, Alisa, in 2017, and then competing at the World Championships 16 months later, finishing fifth(!!) on bars and helped the team win silver.

2019 was Mustafina’s final year of competition and was still at the peak of the sport. She competed at the Russian National Championships where she placed third in the all-around, the Stuttgart World Cup where she placed fifth, and the Birmingham World Cup where she won the all-around.

Mustafina also made her mark on the gymnastics world by establishing a new skill in the code of points named after her, the Mustafina dismount on uneven bars. It is an “E” level skill, one of the highest levels of difficulty, and is a double back dismount with a one and a half twist. She last competed it in the 2016 Olympics. 

She currently is the Russian Junior team coach, a position she has held since February 2020.