Monday, October 17, 2011

The Evolution of Aging Gymnasts & Oksana Chusovitina-Her Gymnastics Purpose

There has been a lot of old faces among the young guns of gymnastics. Of coarse, being "old" by gymnastics standards is a much different interpretation than what it means to be "old" outside of the gymnastics world. Even so, elite gymnasts in their early 20's was virtually unheard of 20 years ago. A sport that was once represented by females no older than 16 has since evolved into a sport shared by gymnasts in their 20's and even 30's.

Gymnasts such as Alicia Sacramone, (24 years of age) and Chellsie Memmel, (23 years old) of the United States:

College Gymnasts who either returned or are, for the very first time, trying out elite gymnastics!

Vanessa Zamarripa, Anna Li & Casey Jo Magee.

Gymnasts who have made the national team well into their teenage years. Prior to Kayla Williams, no one past the age of 15 had made the US National team, competed at Worlds and medaled. Brandie Jay is another gymnast who joined the national team as an older teen and is currently competing at the Pan Am Games for the USA.

Ariella Kaeslin, from Switzerland, seemed to get better as she aged. She retired recently at the age of 24.

Valeria Maksyuta, from Isreal, has added new skills to her gymnastics as well. She is currently 21 years of age.

Even Chinese gymnast, Cheng Fei, currently 23 years of age, announced a planned comeback. China is not known for keeping Elite gymnasts past their teenage years.

Jessica Lopez, from Brazil, also has shown incredible improvement as she's gotten older. Throwing new skills at the age of 25!

Elizabeth Tweddle, at 26 years, looks better than she ever has before and is winning more medals in international competitions than she ever had as a teenager.

Catalina Ponor of Romania, retired from the sport in 2007. 4 years later, she looks as though she never left the sport of gymnastics. At 24, she looks better than ever!

What is it about the sport of gymnastics that pulls girls back into the constant training, day in and day out. What draws grown women back into the structured and rigid world of physical pounding, pain and struggle that they were sent into as children. Gymnastics is a very addicting sport. Not only do girls feel the lowest of lows in this environment, but the exhilerating highs are nothing in comparison to anything in the "real" world; at least not in a controlled environment.

Prior to the 21st century, gymnastics equiptment was a lot less forgiving. A gymnast body was worn down more swiftly and returning to the sport was often not an option. Likewise, information on eating disorders, over-use injuries and training in general was not known or developed. As information has increased and the sport has evolved, so has the ability for gymnasts to return to the sport well past the age of what was originally normal or even probable.

For many of these women, coming back is based on expectation, unfinished business or a need to be in a controlled, structured environment. For many, gymnastics has given a sort of purpose that not many people outside of the gymnastics world could understand. But there is also sometimes a need to fulfill a purpose in one's return to gymnastics.

Oksana Chusovitina's reason for returning to the sport was based on a deeper purpose. Her story is a very powerful one that makes her remarkable road back to elite gymnastics an incredible feat; one that could only be achieved by love, passion and an immense willpower to save the one thing that mattered most to her.

Oksana is currently 36 years old. The oldest, female gymnast ever to win an Olympic medal, which she did on vault at the 2008 Games in Bejing, China. An age that is virtually unheard of in the world of elite gymnastics, and even in the world of elite sports.

Not only that, but her son's leukemia is now in remission. After the games in China, Chusovitina announced plans to retire, only to tear her achilles tendon. Returning from such an injury was once unheard of in the sport of gymnastics. Yet upon tearing it, Oksana decided to give it another go. 1 year later, she was once again on the competition floor.

From a recent interview, Octavian Bellu was quoted saying, "Looking to the world, 22, 23, 24 years old is not the limit. I don't talk about Chusovitina at 36, [that's] something strange. It's from another planet." [1]

I don't think there are truer words that could describe her gymnastics comeback(s) and journey. Her career as an elite gymnast has gone on for more than 2 decades! Older than most of the girls she currently competes against!

She holds the record for most medals won on an individual event in the world championships; that event being vault. Just this month she competed at the most recent World Championships and brought home another medal for that event.

She has competed in 5 Olympic Games and I believe she has her sights set on 2012 in London.

What she has done in the sport is unheard of as well as unreal. She has done something no one thought possible, but it was done out of a need to save all she had. It's incredible what the human spirit will go through to hold on to what is most important, life itself. For all she has accomplished and won, nothing compares to what she has saved. The life of her only son, Alisher.


I do not own the rights to any of the pictures or video footage.