The Olympics are notorious for giving teenage athletes a world stage on which to shine, but the games aren’t reserved for youngsters. Amongst the competitors at the 2016 games in Rio is 41-year-old Oksana Chusovitina, the oldest female Olympic gymnast in the event’s history.
Chusovitina, who’s from Uzbekistan, will compete in the beams, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise events at the Rio games. But this is far from her first rodeo: Chusovitina has competed in every Olympics since 1992.
Earlier in the week, Chusovitina qualified for the vault finals with a combined score of 14.99. To get a bit of perspective on how impressive this is, consider that one of the athletes she was competing with was Croatia’s Ana Derek. When Derek was born, in 1998, Chusovitina had already competed in two different Olympics games. And Derek, unlike Chusovitina, didn’t qualify for the vault finals this year (although admittedly, this was something of a fluke).
After the 2012 games in London, Chusovitina announced her retirement. However, she ultimately changed her mind, and according to her, did so just one day after the games ended.
“The next day I woke up, and I was lying down in my bed and thinking, ‘I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish and I still feel I can do a little bit more,’” Chusovitina said. “And that’s why I started training for my next Olympics. Because I still feel I can do more.”
Chusovitina also has the distinction of having competed in the Olympics for three different teams. In 1992, she was a member of Unified Team; this was a temporary team composed of athletes from former constituent states of the Soviet Union, which had collapsed the year before. She competed for the Uzbekistani team in subsequent games until 2008. Years earlier, Chusovitina had moved to Germany in order to provide her son with lymphoma treatment, and so she competed with the German team during the games in Beijing. Ever since then, she’s represented Uzbekistan.
The Olympics have plenty of young talent. However, Chusovitina is a reminder that, while aging is an obvious obstacle for all athletes, the upper age limit for an Olympic athlete is actually quite a bit higher than many people commonly assume. In fact, Chusovitina isn’t even the oldest athlete at the Rio Olympics. That honor goes to 52-year-old Phillip Dutton, an equestrian competing for the American team.