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FEATURE Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina raises the bar at 41 By Frank Thomas, dpa

Europe
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Oksana Chusovitina will be competing at her seventh Olympics. At 41, the "Queen Mum" of gymnastics is set to be the oldest-ever gymnast in Games history.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - There appear to be no limits for Oksana Chusovitina. "It‘s actually a pity you get no points for age," she says with a smile.

In Rio, at 41 years old, she will set a record as the oldest gymnast to compete at the Olympic Games and the only gymnast to compete in seven consecutive Olympic Games.

When she competed at the Barcelona Games in 1992, winning a team gold as part of the Unified Team, nearly all of today‘s competitors had not been born.

She got her chance for Rio with a decent all-around at an Olympic test event but the "Queen Mum" of the sport, as she has sometimes been described, has a medals chance only in her special discipline. On the vault she won a silver medal competing for Germany at the 2008 Beijing Games, and was fifth, again for Germany, at London 2012.

Although living in Germany at Bergisch Gladbach, she is appearing at the Games again for her native country Uzbekistan.

Her training has been similar to four years ago, only that now in the gymnastics hall in Bergisch Gladbach she mostly on her own without having a team around her. Mostly she is training with children, teaching them their first steps in the sport.

"On the podium everyone is equal, whether 40 or 16," she says - and it sounds as if high-performance sport at the age of 41 is not the least bit strenuous.

Her love for her sport has also kept her young, says Chusovitina, who has been described as head coach Ulla Koch as a "biological gymnastic miracle."

"I have no pain, no problems. The hardest part for me is always waiting for the next work out," she says.

She made her final preparations for Rio near New York at the International Summer Camp IGC for gymnasts, where children and young people from 7 to 17 years, from beginners to professionals, gather. This is the world of Oksana Chusovitina. Surrounded by young athletes and herself just 1.50 metres tall, she feels at ease.

She has learned to find the right approach to training and conserving her strength. "Two , three hours a day , no more," says the 43-kilogram powerhouse.

When she swirls through the air after the "Chusovitina jump" named after her, she seems to be weightless.

She has won a total of nine world championship medals on the vault for four nations. No one currently knows when "Chuso" will end her career. "I will stop on a Monday, but I cannot say what month, what day or what year. But it will be a Monday," she joked recently.

She had made her to Germany because her then three-year-old son Alisher had been diagnosed in 2002 with leukaemia.

Many German gymnastics friends helped to finance the costly treatment at Cologne University Hospital. In mid-2006 she then received German citizenship and settled down to a new life on the Rhine.

Alisher recovered fully but never wanted to follow in the footsteps of his mother. As a child his sport was football and, now 17, he is more interested in basketball.

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