The Historical Significance of Oksana Chusovitina Winning a World Cup Medal at 47 Years Old

At the 2023 Cottbus World Cup Oksana Chusovitina won a bronze medal on vault at 47 years old. This was actually a milestone achievement in Chusovitina’s legendary career. For readers of this article wondering why Oksana winning World Cup medals at 47 years old in 2023 is any different from when she won World Cup medals in 2022 at the age of 46, the historical significance is who she competed against.

-1st place went to 16 year old Manila Esposito (Italy)

-2nd place went to 15 year old Ruby Evans (Great Britain)

-4th place went to 16 year old Laia Font (Spain)

The combined ages of these three gymnasts (16 + 15 + 16) is 47 which means Oksana Chusovitina won a medal in an event where she was the COMBINED age of the three highest scoring competitors. It also should be noted that the next highest scoring competitor was Alice Vlkova (Czech Republic) who met the minimum age criteria by only two days and was just six weeks past her 15th birthday. Meanwhile Laia Font celebrated her 16th birthday the day before she arrived at the Cottbus World Cup.

NameDate of BirthAge at Cottbus
Manila EspositoNovember 2, 200616 and  3 months
Ruby EvansMarch 17, 200715 and 11 months
Oksana ChusovitinaJune 19, 197547 and 8 months
Laia FontFebruary 20, 200716 and 4 days
Alice VlkovaDecember 30, 200715 and 1 month
Laura CasabuenaDecember 26, 200517 and 1 month
Agata VostruchovaiteDecember 2, 200022 and 2 months
Dildora AripovaJanuary 29, 200419 and 1 month

In a career marked with legendary longevity, vault finals at the 2023 Cottbus World Cup might have been the most lopsided age gap in Chusovitina’s entire career. It is even more impressive when considering this didn’t happen at some informal meet where juniors and seniors are allowed to compete together, but at an FIG affiliated World Cup.

It is especially ironic that Chusovitina did this at Cottbus of all places. This particular competition has a special place in Chusovitina’s gymnastics legacy. It was at Cottbus all the way back in 1989 that a young, 13 year old Chusovitina made her first appearance in a major, televised competition. Before Cottbus-1989 Oksana Chusovitina was a complete unknown to the gymnastics community. Her only results prior to Cottbus-1989 are a series of obscure Soviet domestic competitions with little record preservation associated with them. For anyone looking to track the career of Oksana Chusovitina, Cottbus-1989 is essentially where her story starts.

Just like Cottbus-2023, Oksana Chusovitina also won a medal at Cottbus-1989. Although back then Chusovitina was a standout gymnast on floor, rather than the vaulting prowess she is known for in modern times. At Cottbus-1989 Chusovitina won a silver medal on floor exercise and finished 9th in the All-Around. Between her results in 1989 and 2023, Chusovitina has medals at Cottbus that were won 34 years apart from each other.

Laia Font (left) and Oksana Chusovitina (right) at Cottbus-2023. Laia posted this photo to her social media with the caption “31 years older than me!”

To put “34 years” into context, the star of Cottbus-1989 was Brandy Johnson who won a gold medal on all five events. Brandy Johnson now has a daughter named Sydney Johnson-Scharpf who also became a member of the American national team and an NCAA gymnast. Sydney Johnson-Scharpf, the daughter of Chusovitina’s top competitor from Cottbus-1989 is older than all of the gymnasts who competed against Oksana in vault finals at Cottbus-2023.

The two oldest gymnasts in vault finals at Cottbus-2023 were 19 year old Dildora Aripova (Uzbekistan) and 22 year old Agata Vostruchovaite (Lithuania). When their two ages are combined, their combined age (41) is still six years younger than Chusovitina.

Chusovitina’s personal history with Cottbus goes back so far in time, that when she made her first appearance at this competition the modern World Cup format that would eventually absorb Cottbus hadn’t yet been created. Back then semi-major events like the Cottbus International were independent. Like Chusovitina, the Cottbus International survived into the modern age. Even while the vast majority of its contemporary competitions (American Cup, Moscow News, Riga International and Chunichi Cup) no longer exist.

Oksana Chusovitina (L) and Dildora Aripova (R)

In 1989 the Cottbus International was the premier competition of East Germany, a country that no longer exists. When Oksana Chusovitina competed in 1989, she did so while representing the Soviet Union, a country that also no longer exists. Chusovitina is so old, that she once competed at Cottbus at an age that was younger than any of the Cottbus-2023 competitors she now dwarfs in age.

Back in the 1989 it was common for gymnasts as young as 13 years old to compete directly against Olympians in competitions that were prestigious enough to be televised and covered by international sports media. At 13 years old Chusovitina was a youngster, but she was by no means the youngest gymnast to ever be inserted into such a competition. Sometimes the ages would go as young as 10, 11, or 12 years old. The tactic peaked in popularity right around the time Chusovitina first appeared in Cottbus-1989.

In 1988 Annia Hatch who was representing Cuba and only 10 years old at the time managed to compete directly against multiple gymnasts who competed at the 1988 Olympics. The next year in 1989 a now 11 year old Annia Hatch visited both China and the Soviet Union to compete in their top competitions. As for the United States, in 1988 Shannon Miller was only three months past her 11th birthday when she appeared in the Junior Pan American Gymnastics Championships. North Korea’s Kim Gwang Suk who was caught up in an age falsification scandal at the 1991 World Championships, had actually competed at Cottbus all the way back in 1988. Kim Gwang Suk’s age is unknown, but she was most certainly around the same age as Annia Hatch and Shannon Miller, if not younger than that during her Cottbus appearance.

Kim Gwang Suk (4th from left) at 1988 Cottbus

Oksana Chusovitina was the child gymnast who came of age in an era where statistically the average age of the sport was at its absolute youngest. She overcame an era where gymnasts were encouraged to retire young and went on to have the longest career in the history of high-level gymnastics. Cottbus has always been a core part of Chusovitina’s story. Oksana has competed at Cottbus as both a 13 year old and a 47 year old. In Chusovitina’s long career she has competed at Cottbus a minimum of 21 times and it was Cottbus where her high-level international career started. Oksana Chusovitina is now more than three times her own age from her first appearance to her most recent appearance at Cottbus.

As for Cottbus, everything about it is now different. From its incorporation into the World Cup, to the All-Around being dropped from the format, or its now strict age requirements that would never allow a 13 year old to compete, the only thing that remains the same is “Cottbus.” It is a competition that has stood the test of time, but has been forced to completely transform itself in order to maintain its place in an ever-changing world.

Perhaps there is no irony about it. Cottbus and Chusovitina have been around for so long, they now represent the same stubborn refusal to fade into obscurity. Their symbolism has now become interchangeable.

Oksana Chusovitina at the 2023 Cottbus World Cup

3 thoughts on “The Historical Significance of Oksana Chusovitina Winning a World Cup Medal at 47 Years Old

  1. Germany is also a very significant country to the life and career of Oksana. She represented Germany for several years whilst her son received life saving cancer treatment there and now she speaks German


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s