Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina after her team's final performance. (July...

Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina after her team's final performance. (July 31, 2012) Credit: AP

Is Aliya Mustafina a diva? Truthfully, I have no idea. Perhaps she is the cold, self-absorbed prima donna that NBC seems intent on convincing me she is, the leotard-clad equivalent of fiery Russian ice skater Oksana Baiul. After she bombed on the balance beam during the women’s all-around competition, she flicked away her coach’s consoling hand. She did not, as the NBC commentator said, “shove him away.”

And as many times as NBC have called Mustafina a diva, I’ve not heard anyone mention the fact that she is Muslim, a member of the Tatar ethnic minority. To most Americans, Russian names tend to sound the same, but “Aliya” means noble, lofty in Arabic; Mustafina, a variant of the Arabic name Mustafa.

In other words, to a Russian audience Mustafina’s name marks her as an Olympic anomaly, as rare as Team USA's Gabby Douglas’s gold medal win is to an American audience. Right now all of America is celebrating Douglas’ glorious triumph, and noting that she is our first African-American gymnast to win individual all-around gold — not to mention the achievements of Danell Leyva and John Orozco, two Hispanic men who, again, don’t fit the traditional Olympic mold.

I wonder how tough it has been for Aliya Mustafina to make her way to the top of the Russian gymnastic world. NBC: How about telling me that story?

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