“To every young gymnast: never be afraid, always believe in yourself, keep moving forward and keep trying because if you don’t try, you will never know how far you can come.” – Oksana Chusovitina

Return of  The Queen!

We all remember Oksana Chusovitina’s tears and heartfelt waves to the sparse crowd inside the Ariake Arena in Tokyo last summer. Following her final vaults, together we all witnessed a small standing ovation from her fellow competitors, coaches and delegation members. Even the judges on the floor turned to share in her moment, recognizing its incredible significance as everyone paid tribute to one of the greatest athletes our sport has ever seen. A kiss to the crowd. Completely personal, yet shared on a global stage. Her longevity unmatched, her soul for the sport nothing short of inspirational. Donning a leotard with an eight on the front (to symbolize the historic number of Olympics she has competed in) Chusovitina concluded her decades long career in Tokyo at the age of 46. It was an emotional but deserving sendoff for a woman who has shown the world that anything is possible! 

Or so we thought. Her love for the sport has never faded and now, it seems, is bringing her right back for a run at Paris 2024.

On Tuesday the Uzbekistan Olympic Committee published an interview with the eight-time Olympian in which Chusovitina said she’s preparing for the 2024 Summer Games.

As we look forward to seeing her drive for nine continue, we look back at our conversation with her prior to Tokyo. 

The original story ran in part on May 6, 2021 and in full in the July/August 2021 issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine.

One Last Time 

Oksana Chusovitina Readies for Her Eighth and Final Olympic Games  

By Ashlee Buhler

At the top of the vault runway stands a Soviet gymnast who is relatively unknown on the international stage. It’s the 1991 World Championships in Indianapolis and Oksana Chusovitina, age 16, is about to make her name known. She sprints down the runway, catapults her body over the vaulting horse, soars through a front handspring pike half, and sticks the landing cold. 

That was the beginning of Chusovitina’s storied career that has now spanned three decades, included 17 World Championship appearances, and a record-breaking seven trips to the Olympic Games. The story rewrites itself with each year that passes. 

No gymnast—male or female—has stayed in the sport for as long as Chusovitina. Her longevity, which is a feat in and of itself, has enabled her do things few other gymnasts in history have done. 

For instance, she has competed under five different flags, has five skills named after her in the Code of Points, and is a part of a small group of gymnasts who returned to international competition after becoming a mother. Just one year after giving birth to her son Alisher, Chusovitina was in Sydney competing in her third Olympics. It was just as impressive then as it is now! 

By merely competing at the elite level, Chusovitina has surpassed expectations and broken the unwritten rule that gymnastics is a sport for teenagers who will eventually retire by their early or mid-twenties. Every time she steps out onto the competition floor, she is proof that age is nothing but a number. And despite the sport becoming progressively harder, Chusovitina has held her own against her competitors—most of whom she is three times older than. (To put everything into perspective, by the time Simone Biles was born, Chusovitina had already won five world medals and an Olympic gold.)

For Chusovitina, age has never been a deterrent. When she competes, she isn’t there to just show her face; she is there to win medals. And she does. At the age of 33, Chusovitina won a silver medal on vault at the 2008 Olympics—her first individual Olympic medal. She has won a vault medal at every single world championship from 2001 to 2006, and again in 2011. In recent years, she has dominated vault on the World Cup circuit—bringing home five gold medals and two silvers from 2017 to 2019. Chusovitina has sent the message loud and clear—gymnastics is a sport for everyone. 

“I think I am one of the pioneers to let every woman know that you can be a wife, you can be a daughter, you can be a mother, and you can be an Olympic athlete and an Olympic medalist,” Chusovitina said. “Anything is possible, and age is just a number!”

The driving factor behind Chusovitina’s longevity is her love for the sport, which has never faded in the last 30+ years. As a result, she has accomplished nearly everything there is to do in the sport. But she is not done quite yet. At the 2019 World Championships, Chusovitina punched a ticket to Tokyo, for what will be her eighth and final Olympics. For the first time in her career, she knows it is time to hang up her leotard.

“I never had the thoughts or feelings until recently, maybe the past two years,” Chusovitina said. “My body and mind feel it and I know for the first time in my life, that it’s time for me to go.”

In Tokyo, at the age of 46, Chusovitina will officially become the oldest female gymnast to ever compete in an Olympic Games—all she needs to do is salute the judges in Tokyo to surpass the honor currently held by Isabel Judd, a 1928 British Olympian who was seven months older than Chusovitina at the Rio Olympics in 2016. At this point, nothing can get in Chusovitina’s way—not her age nor a global pandemic. 

It’s been thirty years since that vault in Indianapolis. The end of an era is officially in sight. After Tokyo, a long chapter in the history books written by Chusovitina will come to an end. But first, there is a little more history to be made.

Stay tuned for the full interview with Oksana Chusovitina in the July/August issue of Inside Gymnastics Magazine! 

Photo credits: Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics; Chris Korotky

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