Most professional athletes retire before they’re 40; and in gymnastics, it’s typically even younger at around 20 years old. The intense physical demands of the sport are tough on the body, but 46-year-old Uzbek gymnast Oksana Chusovitina managed to endure an impressive 30-year career. Earlier this week at the Tokyo 2020 Games, the gold medalist completed her eighth and final Olympics. The bitter-sweet, tearful moment was met with a heartwarming standing ovation from those in the stadium.
Chusovitina was just 16 years old when she first competed in the 1991 World Championships as part of the Soviet Union team. She arrived as an alternate, but was called up to replace her injured teammate Yelena Grudneva and won both gold and silver medals. Her first Olympics appearance was in the 1992 Barcelona games, and she’s been in seven more Olympics Games since. As her career progressed, Chusovitina specialized in the vault, and she managed to stay among the top eight vaulters in the world. The sports icon even has five complicated moves named after her.
In Tokyo last Sunday, Chusovitina performed two vaults in hopes of qualifying for the event final. However, her respectable score of 14.166 wasn't high enough to advance through the competition and she later told reporters it would be her last Olympic Games. Despite how her career ended, Chusovitina still managed to finish her final competition without injury. The legendary athlete is still as fit as ever, but her reasons for retiring are personal. Chusovitina’s son, Alisher, was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2002. She told reporters, “My son is 22 years old, and I want to spend time with him. I want to be a mom and wife.”
Following her final vault, a tearful Chusovitina received a standing ovation from those in the crowd, as well as her fellow athletes. “It was really nice,” she told reporters afterwards. “I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time.” She adds, “When I started gymnastics, I never thought about the Olympics. I just started with the sport and loved to do gymnastics. I'm very proud of what I have achieved, to be in the sport, and want to thank everyone involved in it.”
46-year-old Uzbek gymnast Oksana Chusovitina just competed in her eighth and final Olympic Games.
The legendary gymnast has been competing in the Olympic Games since 1992.
Following her final vault, a tearful Chusovitina received a standing ovation from those in the crowd.
Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina has officially competed at her EIGHTH Olympic Games.
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) July 26, 2021
Oksana Chusovitina 1992 Olympics floor. This is Oksana Chusovitina 8th Olympics!! No words to describe how impressive that is. Forever an icon. Wishing Oksana the best of luck! I’m so excited to watch. pic.twitter.com/bif8O8ZTna
— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) July 24, 2021