On August 5th, 2012 in London's North Greenwich Arena, 37-year-old Oksana Chusovitina
placed 5th in Women's Vault
. Thus ended her sixth Summer Olympics as a competitor
, more than any other female gymnast in the history of the games. “Am I old? I don’t feel old,” Chusovitina
said in Russian, through a translator, as if answering a ridiculous question. “I’m not doing anything amazing. I’m just like everybody else here.”
Born in 1975 in what is now known as Uzbekistan, "Chuso" began competing at the international level in 1989, and in 1991 won her first individual gold for Floor Exercises at the World Championships in Indianapolis
. Her impressive record
includes 10 World Championships, three Asian Games, three Goodwill Games, and Olympics competition under three different national teams: the Unified Team
in 1992; Uzbekistan in 1996, 2000 and 2004; and Germany in 2008 and 2012.
Her popularity within the international gymnastics community became suddenly crucial in 2002, when her young son, Alisher, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Unable to afford treatment in Uzbekistan, Oksana and her family moved to Cologne, Germany at the invitation of friends Shanna and Peter Brüggemann. The University of Cologne Hospital agreed to begin treatment before payment, and with support from the Brüggemanns, donations and fundraising by gymnastics colleagues and fans from the around the world
*, and her own prize money from past competitions, Oksana and her husband were able cover the costs.
While her son underwent treatment, Oksana began training with the German team, for which she has competed ever since. No video is yet available for her participation at the 2012 Olympics, but you can watch her silver medal vaults from the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo.
After a career that has spanned more than twenty years
and an earlier flirtation with retirement
, Oksana has decided that the 2012 games will be her last. Her plan is to continue to coach younger gymnasts in Germany, but she acknowledged the uncertainty of her life ahead. "I've got to try out this normal life first, then I can tell you how I like it."
* due to the limitations of the Wayback Machine, a direct link isn't possible. To read the article, search or scroll to "Gymnastics Community Rallies to Support Sick Child"