Oksana Chusovitina remains gymnastics medal contender at 41

Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
Getty
0 Comments

Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
Getty
0 Comments

Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!