Oksana Chusovitina Is The Oldest Female Olympic Gymnast To Ever Compete
World records just keep coming out of Rio. Oksana Chusovitina, 41, is the oldest woman ever to compete in Olympic gymnastics — and she’s totally killing it. Chusovitina, who’s vaulting for her native Uzbekistan, has been competing in the Olympics since 1992 and won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Although she announced her retirement from competition in 2012 after the London Olympics, she’s come back for this year’s Games, which mark her seventh time at the Olympics. She hasn’t won any medals yet this year, since it’s still the preliminaries, but her performance in the vault has put her through to Tuesday’s finals.
Youth rules in many Olympic sports, and this is particularly true of women’s gymnastics, where most athletes aren’t even old enough to vote. It’s a sport where a 22-year-old athlete gets nicknamed “Grandma” and everyone just goes along with it. At 41, with a 17-year-old son who’s the same age as (or older than) most other Olympic gymnasts, Chusovitina is challenging the assumption that excellence is only for the young.
Her long career has been shaped by both geopolitical and personal hardship. At the 1992 Olympics, she competed as part of the Unified Team, which was made up of athletes from 12 former Soviet republics. After her son, Alisher, was successfully treated for leukemia in Germany, she joined the German gymnastics team as a gesture of gratitude, winning a silver medal for the country in Beijing.
This year, Chusovitina hopes to apply her abilities and experience to winning a medal for her home country, as she stated in a recent BBC interview. She’s conscious of the age difference between herself and her competitors, but emphasizes that in the end, the only thing that matters is skill. Like she told USA Today, “If they gave a few more marks for the age, it would have been great. Otherwise, well, we’re all equal and we just have to compete against each other as equals.”
Despite her announcement at London 2012 that she was giving up competition, Chusovitina no longer plans to walk away from gymnastics, at least not for the foreseeable future. As for why she came back in the first place — well, she explained it in simple but empowering terms to USA Today: “I’m [a] woman.” How great is that?
Chusovitina’s performances over the years and now in Rio are living proof that given the chance, women can always come back. Nothing is off-limits.