There’s a different story behind every medal.
The story behind Aliya Mustafina’s all-around gold today is that of a revived dynasty; the dominant Soviet women’s team of the 1980’s and early 1990’s – whom many consider to represent the absolute epitome of artistic gymnastics – was dead and now reborn. In addition to leading her teammates to their country’s first world title as an independent nation, Mustafina has delivered one of the great performances by a female gymnast ever – capturing the very same artistry, difficulty, and competitive composure that made her Soviet predecessors so beloved and revered. Her four-event arsenal is so well balanced it’s hard to pick a favorite event to watch her on, and a win so convincing and undeniable as hers gives a satisfying sense of closure to a competition. She has established herself and her Russian teammates as the absolute gymnasts to watch over the next two years – and the gymnasts to beat.
The story behind Jiang Yuyuan’s silver is one of redemption – not only for her country, which won a disappointing bronze in the team competition, but also for herself, as she has been off the world stage since Beijing and has never won the all-around medal she has been capable of. Following a year-long slump during which she missed the 2009 world championships and appeared to be on her way out of the sport, Jiang became revitalized just in time for these world championships, complete with new skills and a new sense of confidence on even her weaker events. Her performance in today’s all-around was not only brilliant, but probably somewhat of a “relief” to her country and her fans. Jiang Yuyuan is officially back, and we’ll now enjoy two more years of her charming gymnastics.
The story behind Rebecca Bross’s bronze medal is one of growth. Although she won silver last year and was touted as a top contender for gold here in Rotterdam, I have a feeling this bronze might mean something more than any other medal could have. Last year it was inexperience that led to a careless mistake on her final skill of the meet; this year it was her veteran-like determination that salvaged a medal after it had slipped away. Bross’s fall on beam was unexpected after how solid she has been all year, but the floor routine she delivered in the final rotation to win that bronze was one of the greatest performances of her career thus far. She earned every tenth of her all-around bronze with that clutch routine – on the very event that betrayed her as a young rookie just one year ago.
Huang Qiushuang, Ana Porgras, and Lauren Mitchell were all fantastic as well, and will continue to be major players in the all-around as we head into these next two years. Nabieva will be back, and may very well be on the podium next to her teammate next year. Switzerland’s Ariella Kaeslin and Venezuela’s Jessica Lopez were delightful highlights, finishing in the top ten and making this one of the most diverse world all-around finals ever. And Aly Raisman may have suffered a heartbreak on her second event, but the champion-like way in which she rebounded speaks more to her tenacity than any higher result could have. She’ll be back again as well, and armed with the experience of her life.