Stars of Asiad

(Asiad) Age just a number, says veteran Uzbek gymnast

2014/09/25 17:29

By Park Sojung

INCHEON, Sept. 25 (Yonhap) -- Oksana Chusovitina is not your typical gymnast.

The 39-year-old, who was by far the oldest contender in the women's vault final at the ongoing Asian Games in Incheon on Wednesday, is still going strong after 30 years on the apparatus.

Though she came off with silver at this Asiad -- which adds to her already colorful resume that spans multiple countries -- the six-time Olympic vaulter says she's still not satisfied.

"My goal is to make my seventh Olympic Games in Rio," she told reporters after the match. She also plans to compete at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Nanning, China, next month, which would be her 15th world championships appearance.

Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, 39, holds up her silver medal following the women's vault final at the Asian Games in Incheon. (Yonhap file photo) Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, 39, holds up her silver medal following the women's vault final at the Asian Games in Incheon. (Yonhap file photo)

Chusovitina has come quite a long way to stand on the podium in South Korea. She picked up the sport at the age of 7 in Russia but has since represented three countries: the Unified Team comprised of former Soviet countries; Germany, where she'd moved to find better treatment for her leukemia-stricken son; and now Uzbekistan, her homeland.

Considering most gymnasts peak in their late teens and begin to fade by their 20s, Chusovitina is indeed a rare breed and a living legend in the truest sense of the term. She has two Olympic medals, one being the gold in the team event in 1992, three world championships, and two Asian Games gold medals. Chusovitina won the national all-around title in the former Soviet Union in 1988, before some vaulters in Wednesday's final were even born.

Matching Chusovitina's success and longevity will be a tall order, as gymnasts must keep abreast of the latest scoring system and update their routines accordingly -- not to mention keep themselves in tip-top form for years.

At Wednesday's final, the Uzbek woman took the audience by storm, drawing multiple ovations from a stadium filled to half capacity.

She scored 14.750 points with one of the toughest moves among all showcased, though it wasn't enough to upset her North Korean nemesis, Hong Un-jong. The 25-year-old had also beat Chusovitina to gold at the 2008 Olympics.

Chusovitina, however, didn't think age was the deal breaker.

"Age is just a number," she said, adding that she felt like "a fish in the water" doing gymnastics.

And she may have proved herself right by beating Vietnam's Thi Ha Thanh Phan, 23, who took the bronze.

When asked if she was intimidated by a sport traditionally dominated by young gymnasts, Chusovitina said she didn't give the matter much thought.

"I'm not intimidated by them. If anything, they must be intimidated by me," she said as if she was asked a silly question.

Though previous rumors said retirement may be imminent, Chusovitina seemed to suggest she still had many years left in her career.

"I feel happy but tired after today's competition," she said. "Tired not physically, but mentally, because I had to wait for my turn."

   sojungpark@yna.co.kr

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