The Mother and Daughter Who Both Competed Against Oksana Chusovitina

One topic I am frequently asked regarding Oksana Chusovitina is whether she competed against both a mother and a daughter from the same family. Like so many gymnastics fans, I find this a fascinating topic. But despite how long Chusovitina has been competing for and the multiple generations her career spans, it has been extremely difficult finding a documented example of this happening.

In the past my response to this question has been a hard “no.” It hasn’t happened. It is simply too rare for both a mother and a daughter to both make it to high-level international competition, and then have both family members align with Chuosvitina’s timeline. There have been a lot of “near-misses” where it almost happened, but no direct example of it actually occurring. That was until this week when I finally found an example where Chusovitina did in fact compete against both a mother and daughter.

It was the performance of Sabrina Voinea who competed at the 2023 Doha World Cup and made her first ever appearance against Chusovitina that reignited the debate over a possible mother and daughter combination who both competed against Chusovitina. But Sabrina’s mother Camelia Voinea last competed in 1988, while Chusovitina didn’t start competing internationally until 1989. The two gymnasts missed having their careers overlap by just a single year.

Oksana Chusovitina (L) and Sabrina Voinea (R) at the 2023 Doha World Cup

An even closer “near-miss” was 2012 Olympian Viktoria Komova whose mother Vera Kolesnikova also competed for the final time in 1988. Both Kolesnikova and Chusovitina were Soviet gymnasts, but Kolesnikova was a senior while Chusovitina was a junior. Even in Soviet domestic competition, I couldn’t find a competition where the two directly competed against each other because of the junior/senior divide. Even though both gymnasts were competing for the same program in the same year.

It was actually Mary Lou Retton’s daughter McKenna Kelley who is responsible for putting me on the right tracks. In February 2020 McKenna posted a Tweet where she praised Oksana Chusovitina’s longevity and noted that both she and her mother competed against Chusovitina. This led to McKenna getting mocked by fans because her mother last competed in early 1985 and missed overlapping with Chusovitina by an entire Olympic quad. It was also noted that McKenna Kelley as an American gymnast never reached high-level international competition which would have allowed her to compete directly against Uzbekistan’s Chusovitina.

While the Tweet was baffling gymnastics fans who couldn’t conceive a scenario where Oksana Chusovitina competed against either McKenna Kelley or Mary Lou Retton, I felt the concept had some merit to it. While it is perfectly understandable that McKenna Kelley was misremembering the finer details of her mother’s career, I didn’t see how a gymnast could misremember the finer details of her own career. McKenna Kelley was adamant that she competed against Chusovitina, and I believed her.

What gave me so much faith in McKenna Kelley being right was that Mary Lou Retton is famed for her Texas connections and raising her family in the Lone Star State. It just so happens that the one place in America that Chusovitina is known to frequent, is Texas. This is because Chusovitina’s teammate from the 1992 Olympics and longtime friend Svetlana Boginskaya followed Mary Lou Retton’s footsteps. Like Mary Lou Retton, Boginskaya moved to Texas in the middle of her gymnastics career to train under Bela Karolyi. Further mimicking Retton, Boginskaya would eventually adopt Texas as her home, and has been based in Houston, Texas ever since.

Through their longtime friendship, Svetlana Boginskaya has been known to encourage Chusovitina to visit Texas on a semi-regular basis to compete in some minor competitions, train, and host coaching clinics. Whereas McKenna Kelley and Oksana Chusovitina never met in a high-level international competition, it was obvious that somewhere in Texas, these two gymnasts must have crossed paths in a regional competition.

Because of her numerous trips to the United States over the years, Oksana Chusovitina has five different profiles on My Meet Scores which tracks such competitions. Oksana Chusovitina is listed twice, once each for Team Uzbekistan and Team Germany. Then there are three additional profiles where she was mistakenly listed under a misspelled name. It wasn’t until I was looking through the results of the fifth and final profile that I finally found a match.

The 1992 Soviet Olympic team which compete under an Olympic flag. (From L to R): Svetlana Boginskaya, Elena Grudneva, Oksana Chusovitina, Tatiana Lysenko, Tatiana Gutsu, and Roza Gaileva.

McKenna Kelley and Oksana Chusovitina appeared in the results of the same competition at the 2013 Houston National Invitational (HNI), a competition held in Boginskaya’s home city. Other gymnasts in attendance at the 2013 HNI were Jessica Lopez, Madison Kocian, Ira Alexeeva, Flavia Saraiva and Alyssa Baumann. All of which would go on to compete at either the Olympics, World Championships, or both. Another participant was Emma Kelley, McKenna’s little sister.

I knew this wasn’t the answer in my goal of finding a mother and daughter who both competed against Oksana Chusovitina. But McKenna Kelley had provided a “proof of concept” that it was possible and a working template of what to look for. That the more likely scenario was not a mother and daughter combination from the World Championships, but a regional competition in the United States where the vast majority of the competitors were American.

If there was an example to be found, the best place to look was deep in the throes of the My Meet Scores data.

Previously, it had been 1988 Olympian Brandy Johnson and 1992 Olympian Silvia Mitova who had long been leading candidates in my search for a mother and daughter combination who both competed against Chusovitina. Brandy’s daughter Sydney Johnson-Scharpf had even been named to the American National Team, but never reached the highest level of the team where she would have been sent to the Olympics or World Championships. I held out hope that maybe there was a lower level international competition where Sydney and Oksana may have crossed paths, but there wasn’t one to be found.

I had similar bad luck with Mitova’s daughter, Jessica Hutchinson. Both were daughters of Olympians, but they are mainly known for being NCAA gymnasts. Not elite-level gymnasts where they would crossed paths with Chusovitina.

I hoped to retool my efforts using Jessica and Sydney’s results and try again using the McKenna Kelley-template. This time focusing on the results in the My Meet Scores data and hoping they crossed paths with Chusovitina in a small, regional competition. But once again I had no luck. The Mitova-Hutchinson family was based out of Pennsylvania while the Johnson-Scharpf family was based out of Florida.

They were simply too far away from Texas to compete in the Lone Star State with enough frequency to eventually cross paths with Chusovitina. If this was going to work, I needed to find a gymnast who is the daughter of an Olympian, but also has geographical proximity to Texas. Once again, I was at a dead end.

That’s where I was three years ago.

Oksana Chusovitina competing at the Houston National Invitational

In the past year gymnastics fans have begun taking note of a young gymnast by the name of Elizaveta Grebenkova. She was the latest example of a gymnast continuing the legacy of her mother, who was once a famous Olympic gymnast. Her father is Georgy Grebenkov, a 2004 Olympian. Her mother is Ludmilla Ezhova, a 2004 and 2008 Olympian. Ludmilla won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics. But what made Elizaveta Grebenkova significant was that her family was based out of Texas.

I thought it was a great story of a young, aspiring, gymnast whose name I should keep an eye out for in the future, but I never made the connection that this was relevant to my search from three years ago for a mother and daughter combination who both competed against Chusovitina.

It wasn’t until Sabrina Voinea competed at the Doha World Cup and I once again saw social media posts from fans asking about whether Chusovitina competed against Sabrina’s mother, that I suddenly remembered Elizaveta Grebenkova. Only this time, I was now paying attention to the important detail. Her mother is an Olympian and she is from Texas.

(From L to R): Ludmilla Ezhova, Ksenia Afanasyeva, Ksenia Semyonova, Anna Pavlova, and Oksana Chusovitina.

Sure enough, Elizaveta Grebenkova and Oksana Chusovitina both competed at the 2020 Houston National Invitational. The same competition that McKenna Kelley crossed paths with Chusovitina seven years earlier. The competition located in Svetlana Boginskaya’s hometown.

I had finally found a documented example of Oksana Chusovitina competing against a mother and daughter but there are numerous asterisks that must be pointed out.

For starters, the Houston National Invitational is a massive competition. In 2020 it featured  1,434 competitors when only counting the women’s side of the sport. This one competition had more competitors than the total number of Olympians in women’s gymnastics from 1896 to 2012 (which is 1,428 gymnasts). With a competition this large, it feels like it goes against the premise of the original question. You don’t really “face your opponent” under these circumstances. With 1000+ competitors it can’t be said a gymnast interacts with all of her competitors, or even a small fraction of them. Nor is the event even a single competition. But rather, most of the gymnasts are divided into different categories and age groups with awards given based on the winner of each respective group.

Oksana Chusovitina competing at the Houston National Invitational

Elizaveta Grebenkova finished 377th in the standings. Oksana Chusovitina who only competed on vault, finished at #1,419 in the All-Around standings. Chusovitina was only 15 spots away from last place. Another major asterisk is that Elizaveta Grebenkova was only a Level-9 when she appeared in this competition. Many gymnastics fans would find it absurd to link a Level-9 result directly to an elite level gymnast like Oksana Chusovitina.

But regardless of those objections, when McKenna Kelley crossed paths with Chusovitina at this very same competition in 2013, the size of the competition or the fact she hadn’t yet qualified elite didn’t matter. McKenna remembered Chusovitina was there and was able to appreciate it regardless. Going as far as to note the connection seven years later as her career was winding down.

It should also be noted that the relationship between Elizaveta Grebenkova and Oksana Chusovitina goes beyond a chance encounter at the 2020 HNI. For gymnasts like Oksana Chusovitina, Ludmilla Ezhova, and Svetlana Boginskaya, everyone is friends with each other and their families are also well acquainted with each other. On social media there’s even a picture of Elizaveta Grebenkova back when she was a kindergartner posing with Svetlana Boginskaya and Oksana Chusovitina that was taken long before the 2020 HNI.


2 thoughts on “The Mother and Daughter Who Both Competed Against Oksana Chusovitina

  1. I am sure that one of the South Korean gymnasts who has competed at worlds in the last few years had a mother who was a former international competitor for South Korea in the early 90s and would have crossed passed with Chuso, if not at a world event, at the Asian games


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