One of the things which makes the career of Oksana Chusovitina special, aside from the unprecedented longevity where she’s an 8x Olympian, is her tendency to retire and then immediately unretire. At this point, it has occurred so many times that it is precisely what makes Chusovitina’s career so enjoyable to follow.
In 2021 Chusovitina didn’t even get to the New Year before breaking her pledge that the Summer Olympics would be the end of her career. By the time Fall came around Oksana had already outright stated she planned to compete in 2022, but stressed that under no circumstances was this an attempt for the 2024 Olympics. It was simply an attempt to compete at the 2022 Asian Games.
And then a few weeks later on Instagram, Chusovitina suggested to her fans that 2024 was an open possibility.
In honor of gymnastics fans getting yet another quad where we get to follow Chusovitina as she tries her hand at a 9th Olympic appearance, I’m going to come out with a graphic which visualizes Oksana Chusovitina’s career. Because at this point, words can no longer do her story justice.
I took the same linear template I use for the graphics in my profiles section. It features the timeline of Oksana Chusovitina’s career lined up alongside the careers of every Olympic All-Around Champion from 1992-present. If you are wondering why some years are listed twice, those are the years where a World Championships held in an Olympic year (1992, 1996, and 2021). If you are wondering why some years have a red line going through them, those are the years where no World Championships or Olympics were held (1990, 1998, and 2020).
This is done to demonstrate how many competitions a gymnast had to attend, but also how many years a gymnast had to wait before her next major competition. Whereas the Olympic All-Around Champions are all marked from the moment they first competed and last competed in an Olympics and/or World Championships, I cheated a little with Oksana’s timeline.
Because she first competed against international senior-level gymnasts in a major, televised competition as early as 1989, I extended the beginning of her career by two years. Because it seems like she’s likely to compete until the next Olympic Games, I also extend her timeline to 2024. Because when you have 31 years under your belt, what’s five more?
Below is the graphic and I strongly suggest readers click on it to open a larger version in a new window.
Because I don’t like writing short articles, I’m going to finish this article with some bonus content and post five photos of Chusovitina that I absolutely love.
This picture is from 1987 and as far as I’m aware, it is the earliest photo of Chusovitina’s career that is available to gymnastics fans. If that year is correct, it would make Oksana roughly 12 years in age when the photo was taken.
Oksana Chusovitina at the 1991 World Championships when she was effectively a rookie and one of the more inexperienced gymnasts in attendance.
One aspect of Chusovitina’s career that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should is that Chusovitina’s early career was defined by being part of a program that represented strength in numbers. Chusovitina’s early origins was being part of a women’s gymnastics dynasty where every gymnast knew that regardless of how talented one was, there were a dozen teammates who were equally as talented. It was a program where anyone was replaceable and no one took the spotlight all for herself.
Then Chusovitina ended up in a new program where the reality couldn’t be any more different. Besides the nationality change, the vast difference in wealth/resources of the Uzbek and Soviet programs, add in that this nationality change also meant a new continental championships, Chusovitina also had to adjust from transitioning between a team dynamic and being an individual.
It meant the burden of carrying an entire program on your back, and never having the opportunity to blend into the shadows. But it also represents symbolism that when looking at the early years of her career where Chusovitina was defined by belonging to a team that was larger than herself, in the later half of Oksana’s career she was the one who defined her national program (Uzbekistan).
For these reasons, I love seeing Chusovitina in Soviet team pictures because it represents how much her career has changed.
And of course, the iconic yin and yang leotard that is an all-time classic.
For my last picture, I want to point out that even though Chusovitina is technically a 1980s gymnast, having an age gap with the rest of her competitors has never led to Oksana being out of touch with the current generation. Despite her age, Chusovitina’s social media game is every bit as good as your average 16 year old gymnast making her debut in the Paris quad.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the gymnast who adapted to the abolishment of compulsories, the termination of the traditional horse vault, and the establishment of open-ended scoring didn’t have any difficulty adapting to the rise of social media. It is not that the above picture is in my opinion, a great photo, it’s that having a strong social media game has always come so easily to Chusovitina and these photos are routine.
Chusovitina’s longevity is one of the greatest athletic feats in sports history, but she’s quietly one of the most intelligent athletes in her respective sport. This intelligence is one of the many hidden attributes of Chusovitina. It is how Oksana adjusted to so many changes and seems to adapt to any era with ease. Her intelligence is also on display when Chusovitina is consistently one of the best jokesters in the sport and her legendary use of wit. At a certain point, when an athlete keeps achieving success and never seems to struggle in adverse circumstances, it becomes apparent that their mental strengths are clearly a fundamental component to all the success they are achieving in the realm of athletics.
Whereas social media seems like such a trivial point to highlight in the 31 year career of a gymnast, in my opinion it is a perfect example of Chusovitina having skills that go beyond how much physical strength she can generate on a vault attempt. Oksana Chusovitina has always been so much more than that.