' Cinema Romantico: The London Olympics: What I'll Remember Most

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The London Olympics: What I'll Remember Most

Interviewer: "What would be a reason not to go to the gym?"
Aliya Mustafina: "Death."

Did you know the vault on which America’s gymnastics vaulting empress McKayla Maroney fell in the event final which tragically relegated her to second place when first was supposedly foregone is called a Mustafina? I bet you didn’t. I didn’t either. It is called a Mustafina because Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina was the first to do it in competition.

Did you know that Aliya Mustafina’s dismount on the uneven bars is also known as a Mustafina? This is to say that Mustafina herself performs a Mustafina. (A Mustafina is "a 1&1/2 twisting double open dismount", or "a tucked full-in half-out" for the lamen.) Am I the only one who finds this absurd in the most fantastic way possible? Wouldn’t this have been akin to, say, late Georgia Tech football coach Johnny Heisman winning the Heisman Trophy?

How did this happen? How is it that I now know these things? How is it that two weeks ago I had never even heard of Aliya Mustafina and yet in the moments before she took to the uneven bars for her event final this past Monday my nerves jangled and my body flooded with tension as if I was watching my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers make a last ditch drive in the hope of a potential final second win? Two weeks ago if you had asked me to tell you what a Mustafina was I probably would have guessed it was the daughter Mufasa never knew he had in “The Lion King."


The Olympics always have pre-packaged stars. But their truest and purest joy is routinely found in the thrill of unexpected discovery. During the 2002 Winter Olympics of Salt Lake City I learned one of NBC’s affiliates was showing curling, that strange sport with the brooms and stones that no doubt makes fine comedic fodder at the ESPY after-parties. But upon actually watching it I unearthed something mystical and magical, gentle and patient, a slowed-down game in a sped-up world. I fell head over heels, and each Olympics since I have returned to it with fondness. More than anything from Vancouver 2010, I remember the Canada/Denmark curling match politely tearing the roof off the sucker.

Of course, not long after that match my friend and fellow curling enthusiast Dave and I made plans to somehow, some way continue to watch curling in its three year Olympic off-season and then promptly forgot all about that pledge. Currently I'm preparing to fly to Belarus in February 2013 for the Cycling Match Sprint World Championship, although this will not actually happen. This does not mean curlers are still not honing their craft when NBC (affiliates) are not watching and this does not mean match sprints cyclists don't go on match sprinting in non-Olympic years and this does not mean Aliya Mustafina just dropped in the from the sky to perform her dismount. She was world champion in 2010. Then she suffered a devastating injury, an ACL tear, when she brazenly (passionately, awesomely) chose to perform a dreaded Amanar against her coach's advice. Then she announced, as athletes are wont to do, a comeback. The comeback was slow, arduous. She made it, though not, according to the consensus, as her old self.

At the end of both the team final and the individual all around, in which she earned, respectively, a silver and a bronze, tears came to Aliya’s eyes. This fed a predictable stereotype that was predictably reinforced in various media platforms. So often gymnasts' faces take on masks in those moments before their routines so as not to betray any emotion - all except for Aliya's face, that is, which fearlessly shows the emotion and embraces it, the only face bold enough to admit the next moment will determine joy or sadness. Which is why she wasn't welling up on account of the moment overwhelming her, of being weak rather than strong - she was welling up because she had done so much to put herself into position to win gold and had come up short by a couple falls from the balance beam.

Oh, the balance beam. It’s always the balance beam. About the apparatus Aliya once said this: “Beam is a tough event. Sometimes I even talk to it to make it obedient.” I treasure that quote. I imagine Aliya as a Bolshoi-trained Pedro Cerrano, lecturing the beam for its cold shoulders. “You will not allow me to fall, beam. Do you hear me, beam? I'm talking to you! BEAM?! YOU WILL NOT LET ME FALL!” I can only IMAGINE what she said to the uneven bars in the moments on Monday before she grasped them and proceeded to crush her routine with a fierce, in-control grace, sticking The Mustafina itself, leaving even the ceaselessly critical NBC analysts without anything to criticize, and then, at last, breaking into a smile two years in the making. Redemption? Ha! This, friends, was affirmation.


The Olympics go so (too) quickly. We invest ourselves. They end. We move on. We pledge to remain committed to athletes and their events, we inevitably fail until the torch is re-lit. But there are special things we don't forget. From now on when London and Olympics is mentioned in the same sentence I will think of Aliya’s eye shadow, Aliya’s Antarctic gaze, and Aliya's face glimmering upon the realization she would finally get to stand at the top of the podium. Here's to hoping I see her again in 2016.

5 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm reading for the promise of quotable quotes, and I've been rewarded.

Examples: " Two weeks ago if you had asked me to tell you what a Mustafina was I probably would have guessed it was the daughter Mufasa never knew he had in “The Lion King.""

"Oh, the balance beam. It’s always the balance beam."

"“You will not allow me to fall, beam. Do you hear me, beam? I'm talking to you! BEAM?! YOU WILL NOT LET ME FALL!”"

Nick Prigge said...

Ha! Thank you, sir. And thank you for reading at all. Thank you to ANYONE who's been reading these posts!

Bekalynn said...

Mustafina performing a Mustafina. The sport encourages gymnasts to try out new skills by stating that a gymnast who introduces, submits, a new skill at World/Olympics can have the skill named after them. Technically the vault Maroney fell on is not called a Mustafina because it was already in the code (and I don't think Aliya submitted it). She actually shocked the world by performing it in qualifications, didn't even practice it. Because Aliya is just bad-ass like that. Still lots of people call it a Mustafina and she was the first to do it at a major competition.

Komova has two skills named after her on bars as well.

Bekalynn said...

So yes Mustafina would perform a Mustafina on bars (its a signature move)...

Nick Prigge said...

Nice. Thank you for clearing that up. I completely admit I know next to know nothing and am basically going by what the NBC analysts tell me regarding the specifics of the sport. I just totally responded to her from an emotional perspective. She seems like my sorta person. And she IS a badass.

And thanks for reading! Truly!