Russia Will Give Team USA Some Competition On Bars

by Morgan Brinlee

The 2016 Summer Olympics have shined a spotlight on the outstanding talent of American gymnasts. The Final Five have leapt, twisted, and flipped their way into spectators' hearts while picking up the gold medal in the team and individual all-around competitions. As extraordinary as the Final Five are, they're not the only exceptionally talented gymnasts competing in Rio right now. With the sport's final events quickly approaching, the current reigning Olympic uneven bars champion may give Team USA a run for their money. But who is the reigning Olympic uneven bars champion?

At the 2012 London Games, Russia's Aliya Mustafina handily won gold in women's uneven bars with a nearly flawlessly executed routine of difficult swings and transitions. Her final score of 16.133 was well above those of silver medalist He Kexin of China (15.933) and bronze medalist Elizabeth Tweddle of Great Britain (15.916). Along with winning gold in the 2012 Olympic women's uneven bars final, Mustafina also won silver in the team all-around and bronze in both the individual all-around and the floor final.

When the Games wrapped up in London Mustafina continued to dominate the uneven bars in various international competitions. She took gold in the event at the 2013 European Artistic Gymnastics Championship and the 2013 Summer Universiade. At the 2013 World Championships, she took bronze in the event and silver the following year at the 2014 European Championships. In 2015, Mustafina once again earned the gold medal in the uneven bars at the European Games before a back injury forced her to withdraw from the 2015 World Championships. The break allowed the Russian gymnastics star to heal ahead of the 2016 Olympics.

Born in Yegoryevsk, Russia, Olympic medals seem to run in 21-year-old Mustafina's family. Her father, Farhat, took home the bronze medal in the 57 kg division of the men's Greco-Roman wrestling event at the 1976 Olympics. Like many gymnasts, Mustafina began competing relatively young with her first international competition believed to be the International Gymnix competition in 2007. Then a junior-level competitor, Mustafina's talent was obvious. She reportedly "outscored the senior field" despite only coming in as the all-around runner-up.

The Russian gymnast could prove some serious competition in the uneven bars final for Americans Madison Kocian and Gabby Douglas. In the uneven bars qualification round in Rio, Mustafina came in second, just .033 of a point behind Kocian and .067 of a point ahead of Douglas.