Two weeks ago, we saw the first glimpses of Simone Biles’s comeback after a full year off and it was impressive. In practice footage, Biles showed that she could still do most of her big skills despite the break from full-time training.
Perhaps even more impressive is Biles’s Olympic rival’s return to competition. This week in Kazan, Russian Aliya Mustafina, the 2016 Olympic all-around bronze medalist and gold medalist on the uneven bars, returned to competition at the Russian national championships. It’s her first time competing since Rio. And more significantly it’s Mustafina’s first competition since giving birth to a baby girl just 10 months ago. Mustafina married bobsledder Alexey Zaytsev shortly after Rio and their daughter Alisa was born in June 2017.
Mustafina returned to Round Lake, the national team training center outside of Moscow, in the beginning of September. In discussing her reasons for returning at all—something relatively rare in gymnastics—Mustafina wrote on her Instagram account:
“Why did I decide to return to sport? Because I miss you, girls, the coaches who worked with me for so many years, miss being in shape (since my abs practically dissolved and the rest of the muscles, too), miss the competitions. Of course, I have a huge desire to test myself. I’ve been able to recover from injuries and I’m wondering whether I can do this after Alisa’s birth. I hope that I can.”
Well, judging from how she performed in Kazan, Mustafina’s abs and other muscles have been restored. She placed fourth after two full days of competition, just short of the podium. Mustafina was edged by 2012 Olympic teammate and all-around silver medalist Viktoria Komova, who is in the midst of her own comeback from only occasional competition over five injury-spotted years.
Here’s Mustafina competing today on the uneven bars, her specialty.
This bar routine is very similar to the routine she performed in Rio—which earned her a second consecutive Olympic title on the event—save for missing inbar elements and a different dismount. (The inbar skills put strain on the back.) In Kazan, she performed an easier full twisting double back instead of the one-and-a-half twister that bears her name. On the second day of all-around competition, Mustafina recorded the highest score on the event, which is no small feat in a country like Russia, which is lousy with superior bar swingers.
Mustafina is one of only a handful of gymnasts who have competed after giving birth. Most famously, Oksana Chusovitina returned to competition after giving birth to her son Alisher in 1999. Chusovitina is still competing. Soviet Larisa Latynina returned to competition after giving birth to her first child. In fact, she was four months pregnant while competing at the 1958 world championships. Latynina won five out of six golds at that competition.