Among her fellow competitors in Tokyo, Oksana Chusovitina is something of a legend. She’s small in stature, unbelievably agile, and she was an olympic gymnast long before any of her competitors were born.
The 46-year-old made her Olympic debut at the Summer Games in 1992—five years before the GOAT, Simone Biles, was even born. Representing Uzbekistan in her eighth olympic appearance in Tokyo, Chusovitina took to the floor Sunday night with the same humility and drive that has defined her as an athlete and a person for more than 30 years.
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The 5-foot tall, 97-pound icon had her sights set on qualifying for the final in her signature event—the vault—but fell short on Sunday night, marking the end of her Olympic career.
Despite the absence of international spectators and guests at this year’s Games, there was no shortage of cheers, praise, and adoration from those in attendance at Sunday night’s gymnastics events.
Standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house for the #ArtisticGymnastics legend Oksana Chusovitina 🇺🇿 as she takes her final @Olympics bow. The 46-year-old today became an 8⃣-time Olympian, competing on Vault for the last time at @Tokyo2020 ❤️#Tokyo2020 #Olympics pic.twitter.com/fjm3QNiK21
— FIG (@gymnastics) July 25, 2021
As Chusovitina’s lifelong career of being a gymnast came to a close, she wiped tears from her eyes and waved at the crowd. Then, she made a heart with her hands.
“It was really nice,” Oksana said after the event. “I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time.”
Former Team USA gold medalist Nastia Liukin, who is calling the women’s gymnastics events for NBC in Tokyo, said that Chusovitina first competed with her father back in the 70’s and 80’s. Then, Liukin said, she had the privilege of competing with Chusovitina throughout her own Olympic career. Now, at 46-years old, she’s gone on to inspire even more generations of gymnasts.
“Forever an icon. Wishing Oksana the best of luck!”, Tweeted six-time Olympic medallist Aly Raisman.
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
While Spanish gymnast Marina Gonzalez, who is also competing in vault in Tokyo wrote, “Constancy, Courage and above all breaking stereotypes. Admiration Oksana Chusovitina”
Chusovitina has seen her fair share of change in the sport throughout the years—none more though than her own country of representation. For her first Olympic Games in 1992, Chusovitina represented the Commonwealth of Independent States, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She later competed for The Unified Team and for her adopted home of Germany, with whom she won silver in 2008.
Despite her 11 world championship medals (4 gold), Chusovitina continued to compete well beyond the usual prime of a gymnast, in order to help pay medical bills after her son, Alisher, was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2002.
Nearly 20 years later, Chusovitina says her game plan now is to simply be a mom and a wife.
“I want to spend time with my son, who moved to Italy two years ago. He got into university this year and I want to be around him.”