Olympian and mother Oksana Chusovitina is 33, a far cry from Dara Torres’ 41. I’m almost more impressed by her than by Torres, however, because she’s competing in gymnastics. That’s right, gymnastics, where most athletes hover around the 16-year-old minimum and there are rumors of some sneaking in at younger ages.
This is the fifth Olympics for the Soviet Union/Uzbekistan-born Chusovitina. You can see her in this video competing for the gold-medal Unified Team (the former Soviet republics) at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, or watch her next Sunday in the vault finals.
Like Torres, Chusovitina took a very small break between giving birth and returning to competition: November 1999 to the spring of 2000. Her ongoing participation in the sport, however, is very concretely tied to her son Alisher, and not just in the “I want to be a good role model” way of Torres.
According to her profile at NBC, Alisher was diagnosed with leukemia in October 2002. She took him to a Moscow hospital that couldn’t guarantee staff and medication for treatment and that demanded payment up front. She went to friends in Germany, who helped her find an appropriate hospital. She could not have paid for it, though, without the generous donations of the international gymnastics community. Chusovitina continued to compete for prize money, however, to pay for Alisher’s ongoing care. “If I don’t compete then my son won’t live; it’s as simple as that,” she said. She has taken German citizenship and now competes for her new country.
The more athletes I learn about, the less I understand why the press is making such a fuss about Torres’ age and motherhood. Foil fencer Jujie Luan, the mother of three, is 50. She earned China its first-ever Olympic fencing medal in 1984, retired after the 1988 Seoul Games, and returned in 2000 to fence for her adopted country, Canada, in Sydney. She’s now in Beijing for her fourth Games. [Update: She won her first bout, but lost in the second round, as did all three of the much-younger U.S. team. An honorable showing.] French cyclist Jeannie Longo, though not a mother, is 49, competing in one of the most grueling events, the 78.5-mile road race.
Now I really have no excuse not to go for a run later.