Firstly, I apologize for this title. I’m pretty sure this is what the card I got for my mom’s 40th birthday said, and it’s one of those idiotic things that never leaves your brain.
But onto the important things. Today, June 19, is the 40th birthday of our very own Oksana Chusovitina, who has been competing at the elite level in gymnastics ten years longer than many vying for a spot in 2016 have been alive. What better way to wish a happy birthday to the woman affectionately known as “Chuso” than by celebrating her incredible career?!
Forty years ago today, this five-foot-nothing queen of gymnastics was born in Bukhara, a city then in the Soviet Union. She began gymnastics at the age of seven, and just six years later won the junior all-around title at the Soviet national championships, a huge honor for the 13-year-old. She became integral to the Soviet team’s success, began earning medals on the international circuit, and then won the floor title at World Championships in 1991 at the age of 16.
Up until this point, Chuso’s career sounds pretty normal, but with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, she no longer had a country to compete for. Like many in the same boat, she went to the Olympics with the Unified Team, a joint team consisting of twelve of the fifteen former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan.
Chuso won team gold with the Unified Team, which also included Svetlana Boginskaya (now one of Chuso’s coaches), Rozalia Galiyeva, Elena Grudneva, Tatiana Gutsu, and Tatiana Lysenko. With Gutsu and Lysenko also splitting five individual medals, the Unified Team was the most decorated in gymnastics. And then they split up.
Now Chuso had to compete for Uzbekistan. The move from Round Lake to her new national training center in Tashkent was like going from first class to spending an entire flight in the bathroom. The equipment available to her was old and unsafe, but the move was a blessing in disguise and she wouldn’t have been Chuso without it. Thanks to Uzbekistan’s bare bones national gymnastics program, very few gymnasts came up and were successful, and Chuso was always their star, and with the help of personal coach Svetlana Kuznetsova, she continued kicking butt all over the globe.
With Uzbekistan, Chuso went to three more Olympic Games in 1996, 2000, and 2004. She competed all over the world in continental and regional multi-sport Games as well as in the FIG’s World Cups and World Championships, and earned more than 70 medals during her 13 years in the country.
In the midst of all of her gymnastics success, Chuso was living her life to the fullest, marrying Olympic wrestler Bakhodir Kurbanov at 22, and then giving birth to son Alisher two years later. When Alisher was three, he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, causing Chuso to look into medical treatment programs. Thanks to the entire international community chipping in, Chuso was able to bring Alisher to Germany for his care.
So beginning in 2003, Chuso was living and training in Germany, but she continued to compete for Uzbekistan until her German citizenship went through in 2006. Not only did she make her adopted country’s World Championships team that year, Chuso was the only German gymnast to place into the individual finals, finishing 9th in the all-around and winning bronze on vault. She was 31, already ten years older than the majority of her competition.
With Germany, Chuso got two more Olympic Games under her belt in 2008 and 2012. After her success in 2008 – another 9th place all-around finish in addition to silver on vault – Chuso decided she would retire with a bang, but wanted one more shot at World Championships in 2009. But because gymnastics is the drug Chuso just can’t seem to shake, she kept going beyond that, making it to her sixth Olympics in London.
Again, she wanted to retire, especially with the growth of the German program meaning she might not have a chance to contend further in the sport. But when an opportunity arose to continue competing for her native Uzbekistan, Chuso snatched it up. Now, at 40, she is clamoring for yet another Olympic Games, which she is hoping to make happen next summer in Rio.
Her story not awesome enough for you? Here’s a little Chuso by the numbers.
11 World Championship Medals
10 World Championships Attended
9 World Championship Medals on a Single Event (vault, of course)
8 Gold Medals at Major International Meets
7 Asian Games Medals
6 Olympic Games Attended
5 Nation Changes (USSR, Unified, Uzbekistan, Germany, Uzbekistan)
4 European Championship Medals
3 Eponymous Skills
2 Olympic Medals
1 Badass Lady Hero
Everyone always annoyingly says gymnasts hit their peak as teenagers, but Chuso is living proof that you should never listen when people say there’s something you can’t do. Happy 40th birthday to the lady who vaulted her way into our hearts and who has an Olympic medal older than everyone on the 2012 Russian Olympic team. We love you, Chuso!
Article by Lauren Hopkins