When 46-year-old Oksana Chusovitina completed her two vaults during the qualifying rounds at the Tokyo Games, she became the oldest female gymnast to compete in the Olympics. It would also be the final appearance for the legendary gymnast, who has competed in every Olympics since 1992 (which, yes, is five years before Simone Biles was even born).
During pre-competition training, Chusovitina, who was representing Uzbekistan, told reporters that these Olympics would, in fact, be her last. "My son is 22 years old and I want to spend time with him," she said in an interview with The Guardian. "I want to be a mom and wife."
Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina has officially competed at her EIGHTH Olympic Games.
At 46 years old, she competed for one last time and received a standing ovation from her competitors. #TokyoOlympics pic.twitter.com/qJgPTWICAD
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) July 26, 2021
On Sunday, she earned a 14.166 on the vault, narrowly failing to reach the event final. As soon as she realized that fact, she climbed up on the vault runway and waved to the small crowd—all of whom were standing and cheering—before making the shape of a heart with her hands. "It was really nice," she told USA Today. "I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time."
During her nearly 30-year athletic career, the veteran gymnast has competed in eight consecutive Olympic Games (a record for gymnastics), earned 11 medals at 17 world championships, and has represented three different countries and entities, including the Soviet Union, her home country of Uzbekistan, and Germany. (From 2002 to 2013, Chusovitina moved to Germany to get medical care for her son, Alisher, who had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.) Not to mention that she has had five moves named after her because she was the first to perform them at a major international competition. Three of those have been on vault, which is her specialty—and the only event she competed in on Sunday.
"On the podium, everyone is the same, whether you are 40 or 16. You have to go out and do your routine and your jumps,” Chusovitina told The Associated Press in 2016. "But it's a pity there are no points for age.”
While some athletes, in light of the 2020 Olympics being postponed, cut their careers short, Chusovitina was determined to make it to Tokyo. "I want to compete in Tokyo and retire," she said, according to the Olympics website. "I am taking it step-by-step to see how far physically my body will take me. Of course I want to do more, otherwise I would not be training."
Now, with Tokyo behind her, she's ready to move onto her next chapter. And unlike in 2012, when she announced she was going to retire, but came back soon after, she insists that she's serious this time. "I’m 46 years old," she told USA Today. “Nothing is going to change my mind.”
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