|At 25 years old, Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan is boldly defying the odds in continuing her competitive career. Neither age nor injury has lessened her motivation to persevere, and even motherhood has been unable to dull her dedication to gymnastics.
Thirteen years after becoming a Soviet junior champion, Chusovitina is today likely the most seasoned veteran competing in international gymnastics and is still going strong. A team gold medallist at the 1992 Olympics, she also competed at the '96 and 2000 Olympics. Also a competitor in Sydney 2000 was her husband, wrestler Bakhodir Kurpanov, who with Chusovitina has a son, Alisher, who was born in November 1999. (See our February 2001 Spotlight on Oksana for a summary of her career.) Recently, Oksana was fittingly chosen as the representative for women's gymnastics on the FIG's new "Athletes' Commission."
The following lighthearted interview was conducted with Oksana after the 2001 WOGA Classic, where she finished second all-around. While in Texas, Oksana enjoyed a reunion with close friend and former teammate Tatiana Lysenko, who was present during the interview. Often funny and always good-natured, Chusovitina chatted freely with IG about the current state of gymnastics as well as her own goals in the sport.
IG: Your gymnastics looks great, you look like you could almost compete forever. Are you thinking about 2004?
OC: I don't think about the 2004 Olympics, but while I can still do gymnastics and still train I will continue.
IG: What do you say when people tell you things like, "I can't believe that you're still competing after you have had a baby!"
OC: I say thank you, I take it as a compliment. It means I look good and have preserved myself well.
IG: You have already reached the highest levels of the sport - you are already an Olympic champion, a World Champion, a Goodwill Games champion, etc. Do you have any new goals in gymnastics?
OC: I never competed in the World Cup and I really want to compete there.
IG: Besides Tatiana Lysenko, do you keep in touch with your old teammates and friends?
OC: Yes, I also keep in touch with Svetlana Boginskaya, Lilia Podkopayeva, and Yelena Grudneva. Yelena is working in her hometown of Kemerovo as a choreographer and has a four-year-old son. I last saw her in '98.
IG: What about Roza Galiyeva?
OC: We heard she is now in a tour doing ballet on ice.
IG: Do you ever get the impression that people are saying, "Why are you still competing?" What would you think if someone implied you are too old now or should move on with your life and retire?
OC: (joking) I would say, "It's none of your business!"
IG: Do you think gymnastics is easier for you now that you are mature psychologically as well as physically?
OC: Well, it is a little bit more difficult because of the new Code, but as far as training and competition goes it's a lot easier. Now I'm not doing that extra work required as being part of the [Soviet] national team, which I believe was sometimes unnecessary. It was very tough on my body and now I'm not doing that unnecessary training.
Tatiana Lysenko: There was a rule that, no matter how old you were, you have to do a certain number of routines on each event and train a certain number of hours. There were no exceptions, whether you are 20 or 15.
IG: Is it strange to compete with some girls who are even 10 or 11 years old, who weren't even born when you started competing at an elite level?
OC: I think it's good that they will see that I am still competing. They will think it's normal to continue on into their 20s and that it's not a normal thing to quit when you're 16.
IG: How has gymnastics changed in the last 12 or so years, since you've been a top competitor?
OC: I feel gymnastics has gotten a lot more difficult but hopefully will become a little bit easier with the new Code of Points. I think if it continues to get tougher and tougher like it's been getting, it will be difficult for the young gymnasts to develop those skills that are required.
IG: You mean you think the kids will not develop proper basics because they will be working on difficult tricks only?
OC: Yes, if it continues the way it has, with difficulty being so valuable, gymnastics will not be beautiful anymore. Gymnasts who have special qualities like flexibility or beautiful lines or dance won't be able to show it. It won't be encouraged and they won't be able to do skills that demonstrate those qualities. They will only do the difficult tricks and flips.
IG: You get a lot of attention whenever you travel and compete, the reporters want to speak to you, and everybody is so impressed and inspired by you. Do you get that kind of admiration and respect at home in Uzbekistan as well?
OC: At home my fans are my husband and son!
IG: You've traveled just about everywhere during your gymnastics career; every country practically. Is there anywhere you would still like to go?
OC: [pauses to think]. Yes, Antarctica!
IG: Maybe they will have an Antarctica Cup and invite Roza to do her routine on the ice there?
OC: Yes I hope so!
IG: What do you say to your fans who are very happy that you're still competing?
OC: Thank you very much, I read all the emails and letters that I got and I responded to them all. I say thank you, I'm happy for all that support and I'm going to try to continue to do things for my fans.
IG: Anything else you would like to say?
OC: I wish everybody to be happier, kinder, and have good health!
IG: Thanks, Oksana!
OC: No problem!
Read more about Chusovitina in the May 2000 and January 1996 issues of International Gymnast Magazine. Also look for more on Chusovitina in March 2001 issue of International Gymnast Magazine.