Oksana Chusovitina, 46-year-old gymnast, retires after record-extending 8th Olympics
Gold medallist kept competing beyond her prime to pay for her son's medical bills
With tears in her eyes, Oksana Chusovitina began waving to the crowd.
She could see her score and knew what it meant — she had landed the final vault of her Olympic career.
At 46 years of age, it was time for this storied gymnast to say goodbye.
Her fellow competitors knew it as well, rushing to embrace her before the cameras at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on Sunday.
This photo means a lot to me and mainly because of what it represents. Constancy, Courage and above all breaking stereotypes. Admiration Oksana Chusovitina 🇺🇿 🇪🇸 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StrongerForever?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StrongerForever</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Tokyo2020?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Tokyo2020</a> <a href="https://t.co/NHuyxtgBjQ">pic.twitter.com/NHuyxtgBjQ</a>—@marinaGLara2002
In a sport where anything north of 20 is already considered past your prime, Chusovitina — who made her first Olympic appearance nearly five years before Simone Biles was even born — remains an ageless wonder.
With a career transcending generational divides, she has competed in a women's gymnastic-record eight-consecutive Olympic Games. Winning gold in Barcelona in her debut in 1992.
WATCH | The incredible Olympic story of gymnast Oksana Chusovitina:
Back then, the five-foot Uzbek was representing the Commonwealth of Independent States, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, in a career spanning nearly 30 years, she has seen plenty of change, having also suited up for The Unified Team and even her adopted home of Germany with whom she won silver in 2008.
And yet, beyond her 11 world championship medals (4 gold), what shines about Chusovitina is her humanity.
Continuing to compete, well beyond her prime, in order to help pay for the medical bills after her son, Alisher, was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2002.
"If I had to go back, I would not want to repeat the time when my child was ill," Chusovitina said. "But all of the other moments, I would gladly repeat."
WATCH | Biles dominates, while Canadians Black, Olsen and Moors advance to finals:
Even now, with hands forming a heart as she bids the gymnastic world goodbye at Tokyo, where she is back representing her birth nation, she remains "very proud and happy."
Overwhelmed by support from competitors and coaches alike, she said, "I want to spend time with my son, who moved to Italy two years ago. He got into university this year and I want to be around him."
Oksana Chusovitina 1992 Olympics floor. This is Oksana Chusovitina 8th Olympics!! No words to describe how impressive that is. Forever an icon. Wishing Oksana the best of luck! I’m so excited to watch. <a href="https://t.co/bif8O8ZTna">pic.twitter.com/bif8O8ZTna</a>—@Aly_Raisman
Casting any disappointment aside, at having narrowly missed advancing to the finals, she, with a laugh, proudly reflects back on her achievements.
"I'm alive, I'm happy, I'm here without any injuries, and I can stand on my own."
Judging by the global reaction to Chusovitina's retirement, she'll never have to.
"Forever an icon. Wishing Oksana the best of luck!", Tweeted six-time Olympic medallist Aly Raisman of the U.S.
While Spanish gymnast Marina Gonzalez, who is also competing in vault in Tokyo wrote, "Constancy, Courage and above all breaking stereotypes. Admiration Oksana Chusovitina"
A true legend. Few have better encapsulated the Olympic spirit.
Her flame, will burn on.
Standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house for the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ArtisticGymnastics?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ArtisticGymnastics</a> legend Oksana Chusovitina 🇺🇿 as she takes her final <a href="https://twitter.com/Olympics?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Olympics</a> bow. The 46-year-old today became an 8⃣-time Olympian, competing on Vault for the last time at <a href="https://twitter.com/Tokyo2020?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Tokyo2020</a> ❤️<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Tokyo2020?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Tokyo2020</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Olympics?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Olympics</a> <a href="https://t.co/fjm3QNiK21">pic.twitter.com/fjm3QNiK21</a>—@gymnastics