AGE is just a number for the world’s oldest Olympic gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, who competed in her record seventh Games at Rio last year.
While some sportspersons continue for the sake of medals and records, the 41-year-old Uzbek, who has also competed for Germany and Unified Team (representing former Soviet republics at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics), is in the sport for the love of it.
Interestingly, Croatia’s Ana Derek, who was one of her competitors in the floor event at Rio, was born in September, 1998 — two months before Chusovitina gave birth to her son Alisher Kurpanov.
Chusovitina, born in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, in 1975, is one of the few female gymnasts to have returned to international competition after becoming a mother.
“We’re all equal. We just have to compete against each other as equals. I want to carry on till my bones and muscles give in,” Chusovitina told Doha Stadium Plus. “I’m freshly motivated to compete. Age isn’t a barrier for me. I don’t think much about it. Otherwise, there’ll be a mental block.”
Her amazing confidence to compete in an ambitious field of juniors, who were not even born when she made her Olympic debut in 1992, was applauded by everyone during the recent FIG Individiual Apparatus World Cup’s Doha leg, where she won vault gold with 14.166 points by beating Australia’s Emily Little and Slovenia’s Teja Belak, both in their 20s.
“No, no, I can’t continue like her. She’s amazing,” said Romania’s Catalina Ponor, a triple gold medallist at the 2004 Athens Olympics. “At 29, I find it a little tough. I can’t even think of competing at 40.”
Chusovitina shot into the limelight when she won two gold and one silver medals at her maiden World Championships in 1991 in Indianapolis, the US. She mounted with a full-twisting double layout in floor exercise and it was so difficult a move that it was named after her.
After the split of Soviet Union, she represented Uzbekistan from 1993 to 2006, in numerous events including the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics, 1994, 1998 and 2002 Asian Games as well as 1994 and 2001 Goodwill Games.
“When I wake up in morning, I always thank God I’m alive and that I’m able to compete,” added Chusovitina, who won her first medal in all-around as a 13-year-old in 1988 at the junior national championships of erstwhile Soviet Union.
In the Olympics, Chusovitina won team gold at Barcelona and vault silver at 2008 Beijing Games.
Though she finished seventh in vault in an eight-woman field at Rio, her performance was highly appreciated.
“She’s a role model and an inspiration for female gymnasts. One can learn a lot from her dedication and focus,” said Qatar Gymnastics Federation President Ali Ahmed Al Hitmi, who is also an FIG Executive Committee member.
Chusovitina had announced her retirement in 2009, but came out of it and competed in the 2012 London Olympics. She then created a world record at Rio as the only gymnast to participate in seven successive Games after earning an individual place for Uzbekistan in the qualifying tournament.
“I want to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Games, but to achieve that goal, I’ll have to be in my best form and fitness in the next two years,” Chusovitina said.