Casual gymnastics fans may not know the name Oksana Chusovitina, but the eight-time Olympian has been a consistent figure in the sport for more than three decades.
On Sunday, Chusovitina, 46, competed in the qualifying round for the vault event at Tokyo, falling short of making it to the event final with an average score of 14.166. And with that, she also bid goodbye to a legendary career that even she couldn’t have known would stretch so long.
In a sport that takes such a physical toll on the body and where gymnasts over the age of 20 are considered past their prime, her longevity and endurance is remarkable.
Born in Uzbekistan in 1976, Chusovitina began training in gymnastics in 1982 and was a junior all-around championship at the USSR National Championships.
Chuso, as she’s affectionately called in the gymnastics community, won her first Olympic medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. She represented the Unified Team (as part of the former Soviet Union), where she won the team gold medal.
After the dissolution of the USSR, she represented Uzbekistan in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
She moved to Germany in 2002 to get a rare treatment for her son Alisher, after he was diagnosed with leukaemia. She later gained German citizenship in 2006, and first represented the country at the 2006 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, winning a bronze medal on the vault.
She would follow that up by taking the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing in the same event and represented Germany once more at the 2012 London Olympics.
By 2013, Chusovitina was back to competing for her home country again. She qualified again for the 2016 Rio Olympics, making her the oldest gymnast to ever compete, later breaking her own record with an appearance in Tokyo.
After finishing her final vault, despite the spectator-less crowd in the arena, she received a standing ovation from her fellow gymnasts. Before she left the floor, she posed for photos with other gymnasts, many younger than her son, aged 22.
“It was really nice,” she said. “I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time.”
Though Chusovitina has said before that she was done competing and ready to retire, only to show up at the next world championships or Olympics, she says that won’t happen now.
“I’m 46 years old,” she said. “Nothing is going to change my mind.”