Almost 30 years after making her Olympic debut, and having faced rivals younger than her son, Oksana Chusovitina said a tearful farewell to gymnastics on day two of the Tokyo Games.
The 46-year-old announced her retirement after competing for Uzbekistan in vault qualification on Sunday.
Chusovitina, whose first appearance at an Olympics was in Barcelona in 1992, finished 14th to miss out on a place in the final but said she was “very proud and happy”.
On an emotional day in the gymnastics arena, Coventry-born Danusia Francis realised her lifelong dream of competing at a Games despite a serious knee injury.
‘I can stand on my own!’
Chusovitina won her sole Olympic title on her first appearance – winning the team final while representing the Unified Team of the former Soviet Union.
She also won 11 World Championship medals, including four golds.
In 2020, she was named Uzbekistan’s Best Athlete of the Decade – an award voted for by the public.
After leaving the arena in Tokyo to a standing ovation from her rivals, she said: “I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time.
“I’m alive. I’m happy. I’m here without any injuries, and I can stand on my own!”
Chusovitina was born in the Uzbek city Bukhara. In 2002, after her young son was diagnosed with leukaemia, she accepted an offer to move to Germany, where he was able to receive treatment.
While living there, she competed in international competitions and the prize money went towards her son’s medical bills.
“If I had to go back in time I would not want to repeat the time when my child was ill,” she said. “But all of the other moments, I would gladly repeat.”
Last place, but a dream realised
Francis, who narrowly missed out on a place in Team GB’s team for London 2012, finally fulfilled her lifelong Olympic dream.
As a reserve in London, she was not given the chance to compete, meaning a huge box on her bucket list was unticked.
But in 2019 she qualified for the Jamaican Olympic team for Tokyo 2020.
Sadly the 27-year-old injured a knee just days before the opening ceremony, and knew she would not be at her best.
But wearing substantial support around a suspected torn anterior cruciate ligament, she hobbled up to the uneven bars and fulfilled her dream of becoming an Olympian by performing a neat, but very simple, routine.
The smile on her face showed she didn’t care about finishing last. She is, officially, an Olympian.