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BEIJING 2008

Experience vaults her to silver for Germany

August 18, 2008|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- In a gymnastics meet that has been littered with controversy about allegedly underage gymnasts, a 33-year-old woman, the oldest by a decade in the Olympics, won a medal Sunday.

Oksana Chusovitina, a veteran of five Olympics who won a team gold medal in 1992 with the Unified Team of athletes from the former Soviet Union, earned an individual silver medal Sunday when she did two sturdy vaults.

Her 9-year-old son, Alisher, is in recovery from leukemia, the illness that brought Chusovitina to Germany six years ago. It is because of that illness that Chusovitina competes for Germany instead of her native Uzbekistan. And gymnastics helped save Alisher's life.

Chusovitina is unusual among the ponytailed sprites who dominate the sport. She has short hair and straight bangs. Her leotards aren't sparkly or in pastel pinks or purples; she prefers darker colors.

And she is not finished, not according to what she said Sunday, silver medal in hand. "I could go to London in 2012," she said. "I will only be 37."

In 2002 she and her husband, wrestler Bakhodir Kurpanov, were competing at the Asian Games in South Korea when her mother called to say Alisher was sick.

When Chusovitina returned home, it was to find out he had leukemia.

She and her husband struggled to find immediate treatment for Alisher in Uzbekistan or Moscow, but Chusovitina also had a training base in Germany. It was there that her son began his leukemia treatments and it is why Chusovitina competes for Germany.

Healthy now, Alisher excels at gymnastics, according to Chusovitina's coach, Shanna Poljakova. Chusovitina's gymnastics paid for that improved health: To raise about $200,000 for the treatment, she did exhibitions and clinics. The Texas gym where Nastia Liukin trains donated money too.

Chusovitina won the vault in the world championship at Anaheim in 2003.

Although Chusovitina is most comfortable speaking Russian, she did interviews Sunday in German that was translated to English.

She feels like an 18-year-old, Chusovitina said, and the silver medal felt wonderful.

"I won it for my son," she said of Alisher, who's back home attending school. "That makes me happy."

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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