Uzbekistan’s 44-year-old gymnast Chusovitina heads for ‘last’ Olympics

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Tashkent: Uzbek gymnast Oksana Chusovitina has started getting ready for her eighth Olympics in Tokyo. In a sport dominated by teen prodigies, the 44-year-old makes light of her record breaking survival.

“I love gymnastics. I tell myself:why not train and perform while you still can?” Chusovitina said during a recent interview in Tashkent. Whilst her desire for the sport remains strong, Chusovitina said that she had given her word to her family, whom she calls her “strongest motivation”, that the Tokyo Games this year will be her “last Olympics”.

Chusovitina’s career began when she started competing for the Soviet Union. However, after it collapsed, she joined a team representing the ex-Soviet states at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. She won the gold medal but had to wait for 16 years— and four games, for an individual Olympic medal. In 2008, Beijing, the gymnast won her first solo silver medal. At that point, Chusovitina was representing Germany.

The 2020 Tokyo Games will be Chusovitina’s fifth Olympics representing her Central Asian homeland of Uzbekistan— a nation of 33 million where she is so revered that she has been featured on postage stamps. 

In the 2016 Rio Games, Chusovitina’s presence made her the only gymnast ever to compete in seven cosecutive Olympics. Her longevity as a top-level athlete continues to be a source of aspiration for young gymnasts who train with er daily at the Republican Gymnastic Centre in Tashkent. 

For the time being, the Uzbek gymnast is focused on Tokyo and her plans for retirement. She wants to set up a gymnastics academy in Tashkent to bring through the next generation of Uzbek gymnasts. She also plans to go to take the beam and the vault to the stage in a “gymnastics theatre show” to popularise the sport locally.

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