November 21, 2005

Oldest gymnastics competitor eyes Beijing

By Greg Stutchbury

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Oksana Chusovitina breaks into a wry
smile when reminded that she was a veteran of the 1992 Olympic
Games in Barcelona.

The 30-year-old from Uzbekistan is the oldest competitor at
the Melbourne world gymnastics championships which start on
Tuesday -- an astounding achievement given that most
international female competitors are considered pensionable by
the age of 20.

"When you are on the podium, no-one asks whether you're 15
or 30," Chusovitina told a news conference through an
interpreter on Monday. "What matters is whether you can do
great gymnastics.

"I'm here because I love gymnastics. I will compete and
will enjoy it while I can."

The 2003 world vault champion has an additional reason to
continue competing -- her son Alisher was diagnosed with
leukemia in 2002 and has been receiving treatment in Germany.

The money she earns competing on the circuit goes toward
his medical bills.

"If I was not involved in gymnastics it would not have been
possible for us to move to Germany to have highly qualified
treatment," said Chusovitina, who is married to Olympic
wrestler Bakhodir Kurbanov.

"Secondly, when this happened whenever I was competing the
gymnastics communities across the world tried to put together
funds to help us pay for the treatment.

"So (by competing) I would like to thank the whole
gymnastics community who have helped us in tough times."


The sacrifices in the gym, and in moving to Germany, have
paid off, with Alisher, now six, much better, she said.

"Alisher is doing very well. Three times per month he must
have a blood test, otherwise he is a normal child.

"He is coming to the gym and is happily growing."

A four-time Olympian, Chusovitina was a member of the
gold-medal winning Unified Team in Barcelona, and finished 10th
in the all-round competition in 1996 before she retired in 1997
and married Kurbanov in 1998.

She and Kurbanov both competed at the Sydney Olympics,
where he finished fifth in his weight class in the Greco-Roman
wrestling, while she failed to qualify for the all-round final
after making a mistake on the asymmetric bars.

Alisher's diagnosis with lymphatic leukemia in 2002
necessitated the family's move to Germany, where the decision
was made for Chusovitina to continue competing while Kurbanov
remained at home.

The 1.53-meter gymnast threw herself into the 2002 world
championships in Debrecen, Hungary, entering all four apparatus
competitions, qualifying for three finals and winning bronze in
the vault.

In 2003, she won Uzbekistan's first gold medal as an
independent nation when she clinched the vault in the world
championships in Anaheim and qualified for the Athens Olympics.


A leg injury hampered her preparations for the Athens Games
and she failed to make the final for the vault.

She is considered one of the favorites for the vault title
at the Melbourne championships, which feature individual
competition only, after a strong series of results in World Cup
events this year.

Her fellow competitors in Melbourne are considerably
younger. China's Fan Ye, the beam world champion last time, is
17 and the Americans are putting great faith in national
all-round champion Nastia Liukin, who is 16.

Chusovitina said she saw no problems in continuing to
juggle the demands of a family and international gymnastics and
would continue at least the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I'm doing what every woman is doing. You must take care of
your home and your husband and your child," she said.

"The most important (thing) is to be optimistic and not to
get into bad moods and just believe that you can do it.

"As for my plans, if everything is all right I'm looking
forward to competing in Beijing in 2008 and then who knows?
Maybe I will continue."