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Oksana Chusovitina: A Beautiful Reason to Vault Under a Different Flag

In the Rio Olympics, we were no longer surprised that female gymnasts are now competing in their second or third Olympics. Eight years ago ...

In the Rio Olympics, we were no longer surprised that female gymnasts are now competing in their second or third Olympics. Eight years ago in Beijing, we were in awe when Oksana Chusovitina vaulted to Olympic silver at the age of 33. We were even more in awe when we knew the reason why she competed for Germany despite being from Uzbekistan.

Oksana Chusovitina with son Alisher, now age 17.
(Photo @ Oksana's Instagram)
Many of us will remember that Oksana's ties with Germany strengthen when her son Alisher was struck by leukemia in 2002. While her home country Uzbekistan was unable to provide the quality treatments Alisher needed, Germany offered her a deal, that she would compete and use the prize money and sponsorship to fund Alisher's treatments. It took six years for the family to fight this tough battle. In the meantime, Oksana vaulted to World gold in 2003, World silver in 2005, World bronze in 2006, Olympic silver in 2008, and many more World Cup and European Championships medals. 

Eventually, a mother's love conquers all, and a happy ending arrived as Oksana's 2008 Olympic victory sunk in. Alisher was healthy again, and has grown into a handsome young lad. With a son who is older than many of her compatriots, Oksana does not have plans to discontinue her quest of Olympic stardom. Now competing for her motherland Uzbekistan, she (and Dipa Karmakar of India) smashed WAG records by performing the most difficult vault ever performed on Olympic podium recently in the Rio Games at the age of 41. 

However, Oksana is just one of the handful of gymnasts who competed for foreign countries. In the Rio Olympics, Russian Irina Sazonova and American Kylie Rei Dickson competed for Iceland and Belarus respectively, despite having no previous ties with those countries. Earlier in the history of the sport, Rozalia Galieva of Uzbekistan competed under the Russian flag; and more recently, Russian gymnasts like Anna Pavlova and Yulia Inshina had no choice but to compete for Azerbaijan when the Rodionenkos denied them of an opportunity to represent Russia in international competitions. Due to fewer opportunities to compete at top level in their home countries, these gymnasts, facing controversies and the uncertainties, opted to go against the odds and realise their Olympic dreams as gymnasts of other countries. With this dedication and love for the sport, shouldn't we give them more respect?

The brave girls: Yulia Inshina, Irina Sazonova, Kylie Rei Dickson and Anna Pavlova.

Written by Valerie Theodora Ko

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