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I think the old Mustafina is finally back.

 

Ever since tearing her ACL at the 2011 European Championships, there’s been something missing from the 2010 world all-around champion’s gymnastics.  Although she still managed to win multiple medals at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 world championships, Aliya Mustafina has never quite shown the same fierce competitive confidence that allowed her to dominate the world in 2010 – the same year she and her teammates also won their first world team title over the United States.  Her Olympic gold on uneven bars in 2012 and world title on balance beam in 2013 were certainly welcome additions to her stocked trophy case, but there’s no doubt that the former Queen of Gymnastics would love nothing more than to stand atop the world all-around podium like she did in Rotterdam four years ago.  Inconsistencies on beam, some sloppier tumbling, and a safer vault than the one she competed back in 2010 demoted her to the bronze medal position on the all-around podium in both London and Antwerp.

 

With some recent upgrades at this weekend’s Russian Cup, a more confident look on balance beam, and some cleaner tumbling on floor, the Russian just may be inching closer to reigning world champion Simone Biles, who is heavily favored to win a repeat world all-around title at next month’s world championships in Nanning, China.

 

Here’s an event-by-event look at the best difficulty scores put up recently by both of these gymnasts – using scores from the P&G Championships for Simone Biles and the Russian Cup for Aliya Mustafina:

 

Best D-Scores Put Up By Simone Biles and Aliya Mustafina At Most Recent Competition

Vault

Bars

Beam

Floor

Total

Simone Biles

6.3

5.8

6.5

6.5

25.1

Aliya Mustafina

5.8

6.3

6.6

5.7

24.4

 

 

It would appear that Biles has about a 0.7 advantage over Mustafina, but I’d argue that gap could get quite a bit smaller if both gymnasts do what they’re fully capable of.  While Biles can get a slightly higher D-score on bars if she puts her piked Tcatchev back in (she received a 6.1 at worlds last year), Mustafina can do harder routines on both bars and floor (she threw a 6.7 bar routine and a 6.1 floor routine at worlds last year).  Her tumbling – albeit cleaner – was certainly watered down at this weekend’s Russian Cup, and yet she has added some difficulty in the dance with her triple Y-spin done in combination.  Add in the fact that she can actually connect even more of her skills on beam, and the total all-around D-scores of these two gymnasts could easily be within a couple tenths of each other.

Of course, D-score is only half the battle.  Both of these gymnasts have shown improvements in form in the last year, and both look to be capable of excellent execution scores on all of their routines.  If their D-scores end up matching up as closely as it seems they could, defending champion Biles could be in for more of a challenge than she had last year, when she defeated teammate Kyla Ross by nearly nine tenths of a point to easily grab her first world all-around title.

 

Ross is still in excellent shape and has a very clean and solid four-event arsenal, but hasn’t quite shown the upgrades that Biles and Mustafina have in the past year.  For comparison, Ross’s best D-scores from the recent P&G Championships would merit her just a 23.3 – over a point behind Mustafina.  Ross will likely need to add back in some difficulty on bars and probably beef up her tumbling on floor to be able to challenge for gold.

 

I’ll do a more formal all-around preview before the world championships, which will highlight some other contenders like Larisa Iordache and Yao Jinnan, but for now I will leave you with a collection of Mustafina’s brilliant routines from the recent Russian Cup:

A safe and easy vault for Aliya – typically stuck or almost stuck.

Very clean and smooth. She could easily add the Mustafina dismount, and she’s always got other tricks up her sleeve, like the Shaposhnikova full turn she unveiled last year.

I’m very impressed she’s not only added back the Arabian, but is now doing it in combination – extremely rare to see. Thank goodness she’s taken out the Onodi to double turn connection which never worked – and replaced it with a potentially long combination that she could realistically hit. This routine has been the biggest improvement in her gymnastics since London.

An incredible triple Y-spin that has really never been done before. She’s teetered with completing three turns on this in the past, but now she’s changed the technique a bit and is truly completing this skill for the first time. I expect it to be named after her in a few weeks. Let’s hope she adds back in the 2 whips to double Arabian that worked well for her last year. As for the twisting elements, I can’t say I miss them much because her form had gotten so loose, but at least adding the 2 1/2 to front full back in wouldn’t be such a bad idea.