With Komova on the shelf, the United States becomes an even bigger favorite to retain the Olympic gold medal in the team event. Russia will have to rely on Aliya Mustafina , the 2012 all-around bronze medalist and 2010 World Champion. Mustafina sat out last year's World Championship with an injury of her own, but she did pick up two golds at the 2016 European Championship. Ksenia Afanasyeva will be returning for her third Olympics and recently won bronze on the vault at the European Championships, but she is recovering from an injury of her own. Maria Paseka , the third gymnast that has already been named to the team, sat out the European Championships with an injury.
21-year-old Komova was named as a preliminary member of Russia's Olympic gymnastics team in December 2015, but hasn't competed at all in 2016. At the last world championships she was a co-champion on the uneven bars in a historic four-way tie, placed fourth on the balance beam and fourth with the Russian women in the team competition. She also faced media backlash when she said on social media that the American gymnasts are so dominant—they've won three team golds since 2011—because they're on steriods. She quickly deleted the post and apologized profusely .
One could imagine Douglas as the symbol of a little kid’s fantasy of gymnastics, all joyful flipping and happy outcomes. And one could imagine Komova as gymnastics’ tragic heroine, fragile and beautiful, nervily expressive of the sport’s flaws even as she accomplished something extraordinary. But to imagine these narratives is to realize how complicated the stories really are. To be a young woman dedicated to a sport that spits you out so quickly is to be at once incredibly lucky and incredibly challenged. Where, again, will each of these young women find so receptive and expansive an outlet for her ambition, her self-determination, her strength? Can they find a new, meaningful purpose, or does being thrust out of the sport in their early 20s leave them almost permanently at loose ends? How each of these women answers this question ends up shaping the meaning of gymnastics in our culture as much, or more, as anything they do on the floor mat.