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IG May Preview: Mysterious Mustafina
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Former Russian national team member Yulia Korostelyova recently interviewed Olympic, world and European champion Aliya Mustafina and her coach, Raisa Ganina, for International Gymnast Magazine's May issue. The following is a special extended introduction for IG Online from Korostelyova, who has been a performer with Cirque du Soleil since 2001.

Korostelyova, second from left, during a training session at the Round Lake national training center in 1998. Left to right: Yelena Produnova, Korostelyova, Anna Kovalyova, Yevgenia Kuznetsova, Yekaterina Privalova, Nina Kartseva and coach Marina Bulashenko.

When an opportunity to speak with Aliya Mustafina on behalf of International Gymnastics magazine fell into my lap, I was nothing but encouraged and excited. THE magazine asked me to do an interview with THE gymnast! I always thought if there were anything easy for me to do, talking would be it. Well, I was wrong.

But wow, was I nervous! For me, coming back to "Round Lake" — Russia's national training center for gymnastics — is like reliving my childhood fears. Like reliving my dream that never came true.

Aliya Mustafina (Russia)

During the recent Sochi Winter Olympics, my dad was religiously watching everything he could, while I seemed to space out and not follow it at all. One day he asked me why I wasn't interested. He had a point. What I realized is for me it was difficult not to identify myself with the athletes. No matter if they win or lose, it's a catch 22. I either feel for them, or simply envy them. It sounds bad but it took me some time to realize that's what it was. I am not over sports, I am not over gymnastics.

But when I stepped into the gym at Round Lake I couldn't help but smile. You know what is strange? The gym smelled exactly the same as I remember. It was rebuilt entirely, there is no more water under the trampoline and everything seems new and shiny. It's still a mystery for me why it smells the same when everything else has changed.

One familiar face was balance beam coach Marina Bulashenko — who recently returned to Round Lake — and was honestly unchanged over the years. But she did something completely out of character: she tried to feed me. It's funny how first for years the coaches tell you to watch what you eat, and now all she wanted me to do is eat and eat. First soup, then a second course. And a chocolate bar. And don't forget the apple - it has vitamins, she said.

It's good all that food came after interview with Mustafina. I am not the shy type, but I was terrified to get the cold shoulder.

People who follow gymnastics know the image Aliya has created over the years: polite but, no matter what, still very private. Mysterious Mustafina. After her glorious comeback at the 2012 Olympics, she was named Athlete of the Year for Russia, became a popular sports public figure, and most importantly, she was the face of Russian artistic gymnastics. You'd think that this was finally the time to get to know her better. Wrong again. After the success at the Olympics, her personal coach, Alexander Alexandrov, was dismissed as head coach of the women's team.

At the time, the confrontational situation in the Russian team had become the subject of whispering and speculation. It was all over her, just not about her. In my opinion the way Mustafina handled it is outstanding. Polite but, no matter what, always very private.

Read the full interviews with Mustafina and Raisa Ganina in the May issue of International Gymnast Magazine! Don't miss your chance to subscribe to the digital issue for just $5. Special offer ends Friday, May 2! Click here to subscribe now!

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