The evolution of sports has seen athletes competing at ages far older than normal, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are a shining example of that development with Uzbek gymnast Oksana Chusovitina taking center stage.
Chusovitina, at 46, is the oldest gymnast to ever compete in the Olympics — a sport that is normally dominated by athletes in their teens. Tokyo will be her eighth Olympic appearance and ultimately her last.
“I feel good (physically) but I feel bad,” she said through a translator, via USA Today. “But at the end, I feel happy.”
Chusovitina began her career in the late 1980s representing the Soviet Union. In 1992 she won her first gold medal with the Unified Team in Barcelona where she also placed seventh individually in floor exercise.
In this Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016 file photo, Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina acknowledges the audience after her routine on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women’s qualification at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, file)
She would also go on to represent Germany from 2006-2012 after her son was treated there for acute lymphocytic leukemia. Following the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Chusovitina began competing for Uzbekistan, despite initially saying she would retire from gymnastics altogether.
Now, the veteran gymnast vows that this will truly be her last Games.
“My son is 22 years old and I want to spend time with him,” Chusovitina said. “I want to be a mom and wife.”
But Chusovitina’s situation is becoming more common — especially in gymnastics. The U.S. gymnastic team includes several 20-somethings, including Simone Biles, who is 24, and MyKayla Skinner, who is just a few months older than Biles.
While the age gap is large, comparatively, the U.S. team’s average age of 20.8 is the oldest it’s been since 1952.
A wider look at the Games shows several athletes competing well above the normal age. American soccer forward Carli Lloyd is 39 on a team where the average age of 30.8 is the oldest average age of any U.S. team in Olympic history.
“I didn’t think about it, but yes, of course, if someone thinks I’m motivation they can prolong being in the sport,” Chusovitina said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.