Age-defying Chusovitina, 41, plays it safe in gymnastics bid

 08 Aug 2016 - 0:00

Age-defying Chusovitina, 41, plays it safe in gymnastics bid
Oksana Chusovitina (UZB) of Uzbekistan waits during the women's qualifications. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez


Rio de Janeiro: Standing alongside gymnasts half her age, Oksana Chusovitina was playing it safe in her bid for an Olympic medal at the age of 41 years on Sunday.

A winner of Olympic gold in the 1992 Barcelona Games, long before US stars Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas were even born, the Uzbek is the oldest woman gymnast to compete in an Olympics in her record-breaking seventh Games in Rio.

Performing alongside girls the same age as her teenage son, Alisher, she played it safe on Sunday with her aim of qualifying for the vault final, opting against the fiendishly difficult Produnova vault -- dubbed the 'vault of death'.

She started safely with a handspring Rudi for her first effort and then followed by nailing a Tsuk double full second vault.

"The main thing was to qualify for the final. Then in the final I will do the Produnova," she said after early preliminaries at the Rio Olympic Arena.

The Produnova -- a handspring double-front somersault -- has the highest degree of difficultly for a women's vault and is so dangerous that some want it banned.

"I wasn't sure if I would be able to learn it and now I am more confident with my skills. That's why I decided to learn it.

"In life in general, I like to try new things so that's why I decided to try the vault."

She also performed on the beam but failed to qualify for the eight-woman final on that apparatus.

Chusovitina said it was her love of performing that had convinced her to continue, long after most gymnasts would have retired.

"I love the sport. I love to give pleasure to the public. I love to come out and perform for the public and the fans."

"I'm alive, I'm well. Then it means everything is OK."

- Postage stamps -

And no, she didn't feel out of place competing in a group which included a pair of 17-year-olds -- Turkey's Tutya Yilmaz and Croatia's Ana Derek.

"I don't let it get to me. It doesn't play on my mind whatsoever. I have a son who I want to think about. Not about the gymnasts.

"When I compete, if they gave a few more marks for age it would have been great. Otherwise, we're all equal and we just have to compete with each other as equals."

Chusovitina's qualification for the Rio Games has extended a staggering career that has seen her represent three different countries over a quarter of a century.

She first competed for the Soviet Union. After it collapsed, she went to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona for the Confederation of Independent States, a unified team of former Soviet states.

There she scooped gold in the gymnastics team event but she had to wait another 16 years for an individual Olympic medal.

That came when she won silver on the vault in Beijing in 2008. By then Chusovitina was representing Germany, a country she moved to in 2002 to get her son Alisher, born in 1999, successfully treated for leukaemia.

Now she is back competing for her Central Asian homeland of Uzbekistan -- a nation of 30 million people where she is so revered she has figured on postage stamps.

Even her son doesn't believe she is ready to stop.

"My son asks 'Mum, is this really your last Olympics?'" she laughs.

"I am a woman. Today ask, tomorrow... I said I was finished but the next morning I woke up and I felt like I can do more."