Tokyo – Eight-time Olympic gymnast Oksana Chusovitina wept as she missed out yesterday on a final spot in her last ever Games, but received a standing ovation as she left the sport’s biggest stage for the last time.
The 46-year-old was targeting a place in the vault final, and was unable to hide her disappointment when she realised her score was not high enough to keep her in contention.
Athletes and coaches lined up to embrace the legendary athlete, who made her sporting debut in junior competitions in 1987, representing the Soviet Union.
“We thank her for her contributions to artistic gymnastics,” the announcer in Tokyo’s Ariake Gymnastics Centre said as teams, officials and journalists applauded.
She said later she had been crying “tears of happiness, because so many people have supported me for such a long time.
“I’m just so grateful.”
Born in Uzbekistan in 1976, Chusovitina’s Olympic odyssey began in Barcelona in 1992, where she won team gold, adding silver in the vault in Beijing 2008.
She has stepped back from the sport before, but when her son Alisher was diagnosed with leukaemia, she returned to help pay his medical bills.
He recovered from illness, and at 24 is now older than many of his mother’s competitors in Tokyo.
With virus rules keeping fans out of the venue, the few dozen people watching Chusovitina in the venue attempted to give her a fitting send-off, but the Uzbek admitted the atmosphere wasn’t what she had hoped.
“I would have loved to have spectators,” she said.
“Of course in terms of performance, it’s better when it’s just you and the apparatus. But every athlete needs this attention and applause.”
“Maybe I’ll skip Paris, and go to Los Angeles for the applause,” she joked.
The Uzbek has been at every Olympics since Barcelona in 1992, but insisted there would be no U-turns on her decision to make Tokyo her last Games.
“I’m 46 years old! Nothing’s going to change,” she said. — AFP