Oksana Chusovitina remains gymnastics medal contender at 41

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BERGISCH-GLADBACH, Germany (AP) — In the retro-looking gym that serves as the talent-honing center for Germany’s potential Olympian gymnasts, girls aged six and seven in leotards execute their somersaults and back flips under watchful trainers.

From a distance, it is difficult to distinguish Oksana Chusovitina from the kids. However, she has a son who is about three times the age of the young aspiring gymnasts.

Only when she approaches, do features on her small frame reveal differences: The muscles hardened by years of top-level competition, and the lines around the face tell of experience.

Chusovitina will compete at her seventh Olympics when she goes to Rio de Janeiro, becoming the oldest Olympic female gymnast in history at age 41.

“I am feeling good,” she said, speaking German in an interview with The Associated Press. “On the podium, everyone is the same whether you are 40 or 16. You have to go out and do your routine and your jumps.

“But it’s a pity there are no points for age,” she added, breaking into an easy smile.

Chusovitina, back representing her native Uzbekistan, is an anachronism in an age when gymnasts enter major competitions at 16, and most are teenagers. A legal limit was imposed to prevent ever younger girls coming to competitions.

Her dedication and love of the sport keep her going, she said.

“I have no pain, no problems. The toughest for me is to wait until the next training,” Chusovitina said.

As the Olympics approach, she trains two, three hours a day, or as she puts it, “not so much.”

About 1.50-meters (five-feet) tall and weighing about 43 kilograms (95 pounds), Chusovitina looks very fit. She cannot really pinpoint the reason for her competitive longevity.

“I don’t know how I stay fit, I think you have to ask my mother,” she said, suggesting good genes.

“I love this sport, I love training, I am always eager to train,” Chusovitina said.

Chusovitina’s best chance for a medal in Rio is the vault, in which she won a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, then competing for Germany. She has 10 medals in the vault at world championships, plus one in the floor.

But she is reluctant to speak about a podium finish in Rio.

“I don’t want to talk about the podium or the medals. I first want to prepare in the time before the games, fly to Brazil, and be healthy,” she said.

Speaking of which, Chusovitina said she was not worried about the Zika virus even though some top male golfers, notably, have pulled out of the Olympics because of fears of getting infected.

“I am not flying to Brazil to get pregnant,” she said, laughing loudly.

As she jumped onto the beam for a few moves, her son Alisher walked into the gym to wait for her to finish training.

Alisher is the reason Chusovitina mostly lives and trains in Germany. She is married to Uzbekistan’s Olympic wrestler, Bakhodir Kuranov, and their son was born in 1999.

In 2002, Alisher was diagnosed with leukemia. Unable to get treatment for her son or to pay for it, Chusovitina came to Germany at the invitation of a club in Cologne. A fundraising campaign and money she earned in competitions paid for Alisher’s treatment, and he is fully recovered. Approaching his 17th birthday, Alisher is more interested in basketball than in gymnastics.

During Alisher’s treatment, Chusovitina competed for Germany, winning silver in the vault in Beijing and a pair of world championship medals.

Her international career began for the Soviet Union with gold medals in the team event and the floor, and silver in the vault, at the 1991 worlds in Indianapolis.

The next year, she earned a team gold at the Barcelona Olympics, now for the Unified Team, one of the successor teams of the Soviet Union.

Her German manager, Michael Fabig, thinks Chusovitina may not be through with the Olympics after Rio.

“I don’t think she’ll ever retire,” he said with an I-give-up shrug of his shoulders.

MORE: Analyzing the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team

South Korea’s first gold medalist of 2018 PyeongChang Olympics to compete for China

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Lim Hyo-Jun, a short track speed skater who won South Korea’s first gold medal of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, has been cleared to skate for China and was reportedly named to the national team Monday.

Lim, who won the 1500m on the first day of medal competition at the PyeongChang Games, began the process of switching to China after a June 2019 incident where he pulled down a teammate’s trousers, leaving him standing, exposed, in front of female teammates.

Lim, the 2019 World overall champion, was banned from the team for a year and later found guilty of sexual harassment before the verdict was overturned on appeal.

It was reported in March 2021 that Lim was in the process of trying to gain Chinese nationality to compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but Lim was not cleared to switch by the International Skating Union until this July. His Chinese name is Lin Xiaojun.

Another star South Korean skater, triple 2006 Olympic gold medalist Ahn Hyun-Soo, switched to Russia after not making the 2010 Olympic team. He then won three golds for the host nation as Viktor Ahn at the 2014 Sochi Games.

China’s national team for the upcoming season reportedly does not include veterans Wu Dajing, the nation’s lone gold medalist across all sports at the 2018 Olympics, and Fan Kexin, a three-time Olympic medalist.

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Brigid Kosgei, world record holder, to miss London Marathon

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World record holder Brigid Kosgei withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon due to a right hamstring injury that has bothered her for the last month.

“My training has been up and down and not the way I would like to prepare to be in top condition,” was posted on Kosgei’s social media. “We’ve decided it’s best I withdraw from this year’s race and get further treatment on my injuries in order to enter 2023 stronger than ever.”

Kosgei, a 28-year-old Kenyan mother of twins, shattered the world record by 81 seconds at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She clocked 2:14:04 to smash Brit Paula Radcliffe‘s record from 2003.

Since, Kosgei won the 2020 London Marathon, took silver at the Tokyo Olympics, placed fourth at the 2021 London Marathon and won this past March’s Tokyo Marathon in what was then the third-fastest time in history (2:16:02).

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa moved into the top three by winning the Berlin Marathon last Sunday in 2:15:37.

The London Marathon women’s field includes Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, a winner in New York City (2019) and London (2021), and Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who was the Ethiopian record holder until Assefa won in Berlin.

The men’s field is headlined by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest male marathoner in history, and Brit Mo Farah, a four-time Olympic champion on the track.

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