Oksana Chusovitina is an extraordinary gymnast. Not only does she have five moves named after her in international gymnastics’ Code of Points, but at age 41, she’s still competing at the elite level and wants to qualify for what would be her record-breaking eighth Olympics in 2020.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, the record she’d be breaking is her own. Chusovitina, who previously competed for Germany, the Soviet Union and now competes for Uzbekistan, competed in her seventh Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last summer — when she was one of just two gymnasts to attempt what’s known as the “vault of death.” Beginning with a front handspring off the vault and transitioning into two front somersaults, the Produnova, the move named after Russia’s Yelena Produnova — the first of only five women to complete it — is considered the most difficult vault in history.
While Chusovitina did not successfully land the vault and finished seventh in Rio, it didn’t dampen her appetite for more.
Chusovitina reiterated her intention to keep going when she added another accolade to her résumé. She is now the only active gymnast in the Hall of Fame, after being inducted during a ceremony on Saturday. That distinction did not go unnoticed by the athlete during her acceptance speech.
“It seems like this award is for people who retired,” Chusovitina said, using her coach Svetlana Boguinskaya to translate from her native Russian during her acceptance speech. “In this case, I am not, and you will never be alive until I retire. So keep waiting.”
Chusovitina, who won team gold with the Soviet Union at her first Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona, also joked that one of the reasons she’s stuck with the sport for so long is to defy her mother.
“I would like to thank my mother for longevity in the sport because she’s the one who didn’t want me to do it,” Chusovitina said Saturday. “I wanted to prove her wrong. With any child, you just want to do the opposite of what your parent tells you. So, thank you, Mom.
A mother herself, Chusovitina also talked about her 18-year-old son, Alisher, who survived leukemia as a child, she said, because the gymnastics community rallied around them after his diagnosis in 2002.
The international gymnastics community “helped me get my son treatment for leukemia and that’s why he’s leukemia-free,” she said, striking a more serious tone. “I’m very thankful as a mother.”
Chusovitina added, however, that although her son is “short, like me,” he won’t follow in his mother’s footsteps, or tumbles.
“He didn’t take a passion for gymnastics; he is afraid of heights,” she said. “But he likes basketball. And he believes he’s going to be a basketball player and be in NBA. He is short, but I don’t want to kill his dreams.”
Chusovitina, who most recently competed at a World Cup meet in March, was inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside three others, all of whom retired years ago: Shun Fujimoto of Japan, who won gold with his team in 1976 despite having a broken leg; Alicia Sacramone, who won a silver in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing; and Alexei Nemov, the all-around men’s champion at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Correction: This article was updated to correct an error about Chusovitina’s age. She will turn 42 in June.