Gymnastics is often considered a sport for young women. But there’s one gymnast who is challenging that notion. Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina is 43 years old, and on Thursday she won a silver medal in vault at the Asian Games.
Chusovitina competed with women less than half her age
Don’t believe it? There’s more proof than just a picture of her standing on a podium with two much younger women while holding up a medal. Here’s a video of her doing two vaults at the Asian Games qualifiers. When you watch her twist and spin in the air, try to remember that she’s 43 years old.
How young were the women Chusovitina stood on the podium with? The women who won the gold and bronze medals on vault were younger than her son, who was born in 1999. Gold medalist Yeo Seojeong of South Korea was born in 2002, and bronze medalist Pyon Rye Yong of North Korea was born in 2001. Chusovitina was born in 1975.
Chusovitina is a marvel of athletic longevity, with her international gymnastics career spanning nearly 30 years. She’s been around long enough to have competed for both the Soviet Union and the Unified Team. (Chusovitina has also represented Germany and her native Uzbekistan.) She has five moves named after her in international gymnastics’ Code of Points. In 2017, she was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Chusovitina has no plans to retire
Even though she’s been competing internationally since 1989 — a stunning 29 years — and gone to seven different Olympics (she’s the only gymnast ever to compete in seven consecutive Olympic Games), Chusovitina is not ready for retirement. Via Channel NewsAsia, here’s what she said to reporters when they suggested the Asian Games would be her final tournament.
“No! I want to go to Tokyo,” said a horrified Chusovitina, referring to the upcoming Olympics in 2020.
If that quote didn’t convince you, maybe this will: at 41 years old and at her seventh Olympic Games in 2016, she attempted what’s called the “vault of death.” It’s considered the most difficult vault in history, and only a handful of women have ever completed it. Chusovitina wasn’t able to become one of those women in Rio, but her hunger for challenge and competition cannot be denied.
And Chusovitina has had a number of opportunities to retire. She gave birth to her son, Alisher, in 1999. But she came back, and she remains one of just a handful of women who have returned to international competition after having a child. In 2002, her son was diagnosed with leukemia and she and her husband moved to Germany to seek advanced treatment for him. She might have had to give up competing, but Chusovitina was invited to train at a German gymnastics club while Alisher received treatment. She represented Germany at the 2008 Olympics and at various other competitions from 2006 to 2011.
Chusovitina has won two Olympic medals in her career. Her first was a team gold in 1992 when she was part of the Soviet Union’s women’s gymnastics team. She was 17. Her second was an individual silver medal on the vault at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when she was 33. Chusovitina will be 45 by the time the 2020 Olympic Games come around, but she still wants to compete, and only a fool would count her out. Age is just a number, baby.
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