Friday, April 8, 2011
Disaster At The European Championships
Aliya Mustafina went down at the European Championships with a knee injury that we can only suspect will keep her out for much of the next year. For Aliya and the sport, this is terrible. Knee injuries are bad news. A torn achilles is devastating, but we've seen improvements in surgical technique that now has athletes back up to speed within a year. A knee injury can leave some with big bulky braces and they may never bound the same way again.
One factor that cannot be ignored is that gymnastics is quickly approaching the physical limit. Back in the 80s and early 90s, difficult skills were performed but they were highlights of the routine. Now every skill and combination needs to possess great risk. This has led to sloppy, mistake-filled routines and it has also resulted in a tremendous increase in severe injuries. Gymnastics is no longer a sport where one can escape uninjured. A gymnast's success often depends on when they are injured as opposed to 'if' they suffer a serious injury. Luckily, some like Nastia Liukin manage to time their injuries such that they are able to still reach their ultimate peak. Many others aren't as lucky.
Love her, hate her or simply be fascinated by her, Aliya Mustafina is one of the leading personalities in the sport. It is terrible for the current star of the sport to succumb to injury. Aliya is currently at the top of her career and was peaking to achieve even greater heights later this year at the World Championships. This year was supposed to be about Mustafina and Komova battling for titles, yet both are now out with injuries. Komova may well be back on top later this year, but Mustafina will now be on the sidelines. Imagine how boring the sport would've been if many of the great stars and rivalries were never able to occur. One rarely saw Comaneci, Boginskaya or Silivas miss a major meet due to injury. Unfortunately, one has to wonder if this injury will play out in a similar scenario to Dobre's knee injury that left her a shadow of her former self.
When the FIG continues to ask older bodies to perform more and more difficulty that is better suited for younger gymnasts, injuries like this are inevitable. Note that Mustafina didn't even perform full difficulty in qualifying because it is simply too taxing to do so. This is a problem for Russia and even puts her in question for the Olympics (whether or not she will be at full strength.) It is a sad day for Mustafina and the sport as a whole. Without the sport's top star, every title begins to feel like it needs an asterisk.