Gymnastics, like most sports, favors the young. There is an expectation that most athletes will stop competing by their late 20s, and that after that, they definitely won't keep qualifying for the Olympics. Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, however, likes defying expectations. At the age of 41, Chusovitina is the oldest gymnast in Rio, but she is also the most experienced. Rio is Chusovitina's seventh Olympic games, a feat no other female gymnast has ever accomplished.
Chusovitina's Olympic career began at the 1992 games in Barcelona, and she has not missed a single Olympics yet. So far in her career, Chusovitina has set a world record by winning nine world medals for the vault, and she has one team gold medal from the 1992 Olympics and an individual silver medal for vault at the 2008 Beijing games. During her career, Chusovitina has represented two different countries at the Olympics — Uzbekistan and Germany — and overcome political and personal strife.
When she first started training to become a gymnast, Chusovitina trained under the notoriously severe Soviet Union system. In 1991 the Soviet Union fell putting Chusovitina's career in jeopardy as Uzbekistan became an independent country with little means to support an Olympic team. Thankfully, the Unified Team was assembled ensuring Chusovitina made it to what would be the first of many Olympics for the athlete.
In 2002, Chusovitina moved to Germany after her young son was diagnosed with leukemia. She made the decision to ensure her son had the best treatment possible, but she never stopped training. She switched her citizenship in order to compete for Germany in the 2008 games and brought home a medal for the country in the process. The biggest win, according to NBC, came when she returned from the Beijing Olympics and found out her son was cancer free.
Chusovitina is back to competing for Uzbekistan these days, and she is looking to bring home a medal for her country this year. Given her storied career it should come as no surprise that Chusovitina has a move credited to her name — however, having four moves named after her is nothing short of a coup. Among the skills she perfected are the front handspring piked front full on vault, and the full-twisting double layout on floor. The latter was used by Simone Biles in Rio during her floor routine.
No one can say Chusovitina is getting complacent though. Just because she is competing in her ninth Olympic games does not mean she is done pushing herself. Chusovitina is one of only two gymnasts — the other is India's Dipa Karmakar — planning to attempt the Produnova vault. The move is highly dangerous and rarely attempted by gymnasts for fear of injury. Only five women have ever successfully stuck the landing of the Produnova vault. Chusovitina was number five.
While attempting the move is certainly a risk, Chusovitina is no stranger to risks. An athlete who has continued to excel in her field even as her contemporaries have retired is someone who possesses a massive amount of passion. Whether she wins gold or not, Chusovitina is already a gymnastics legend.