Olympics

41-Year-Old Gymnastics Phenom Inspires Lives, Jokes

Oksana Chusovitina is competing in her seventh Olympics against competitors less than half her age—what have you done with your life?

Olympics
The amazing Oksana Chusovitina, competing in Rio — REUTERS
Aug 08, 2016 at 10:16 AM ET

Women’s gymnastics is notoriously dominated by the young—the teammates of American Aly Raisman, all of 22, call her “Grandma Aly”—but one of the top vaulter’s at this summer’s Games made her Olympic debut before Raisman was even born.

Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina made her first of now seven—!!!!!!!—Olympic appearances at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, when she won a team gold medal while competing for the Unified Team. (For those, like Raisman and her younger teammates who entered this world after the fall of the Soviet Union, that was a team comprised of athletes from former Soviet states.)

Chusovitina made an impressive return to competition on Sunday night. Let’s see if we can find a side-by-side demonstration of her Olympic debut and her 2016 vault.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But that does illustrate some of the technical advances in the sport. It’s one thing to remain fit enough to be a world-class athlete for 24 years—the span between her first and seventh Olympic Games—but another to evolve with the sport and keep pace with the necessary new skills. Here is actual footage of one of her 1992 vaults:

Compare that with her vault on Sunday, which can be found at NBCOlympics.com.

Chusovitina is a true outlier in this sport in which her 16-year-old son is the same age as many of her competitors. Adding to her already-impressive story is that part of her earlier motivation for continuing in gymnastics was the chance to earn a sufficient income to pay for her son’s cancer treatments.

She later earned an individual medal, a silver, in the 2008 Beijing Games at age 33, by which point she had already been featured on a postage stamp in her native Uzbekistan for seven years.

Needless to say, her appearance on Sunday inspired many viewers of what can be accomplished.

The world, of course, couldn’t resist some self-deprecating age jokes, too, because this is the Internet.