Chusovitina and Clijsters prove again and again that old age is not an obstacle to passion for sport | gymnastics

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Olympic Games | The Guardian

ÖOne of the most touching moments of the Tokyo Games this summer was spontaneous. In the women’s gymnastics qualifying round, 46-year-old Oksana Chusovitina stood on the podium at her eighth Olympic Games when she tried one last time to qualify for the final. Chusovitina, who won her first World Cup gold in 1991 and won Olympic team gold in 1992, had previously announced that Tokyo would mark the end of her illustrious career.

On that day, Chusovitina took 14th place in the jumping competition and missed the final after two fine but faulty jumps. Instead of an audience at the empty Ariake Gymnastics Center to send them away, their competitors unexpectedly took command. Across the competition area, all the other gymnasts gave Chusovitina a standing ovation, a gesture that moved them to tears.

Even if she convincingly declared her intention to quit the sport and devote more time to her son Alisher, she was always terribly retired. She had announced that she would retire at the age of 34 after the 2009 World Cup. Three years later, she set London 2012 as the end of her career. Every time Chusovitina thinks about retirement, her pure passion for sport and her tireless motivation prevailed.

It did it again. When she posted a video of doing a uneven bars routine with no handles on, the jokes about her “unrestrained rule” began. Last Thursday, within eight weeks of the end of the Olympics, Chusovitina announced that she would continue training with a view to the Asian Games in 2022 next September. Chusovitina stated that she left Tokyo dissatisfied with her result and was determined to end her career with a climax: “I really want to end my career with a medal for Uzbekistan,” she told Sputnik. “It won’t be the Olympic Games, but the Asian ones, but I really want it. If my heart asks, I have to do it. “

In the same week that Chusovitina announced she would not compete, tennis saw a return when Kim Clijsters, the 38-year-old four-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one, attempted her comeback first match resumed in over a year. The name of Clijsters already stands for comebacks; She retired from the sport for the first time in 2007 and then gave birth to her first child, Jada, before returning in 2009 to win the US Open in her third tournament. After two more Grand Slam titles and another stint in first place, Clijsters retired again in 2012.

But she always struggled to withstand the call of tennis. Clijsters returned to competition in Dubai in February 2020, where she met Garbiñe Muguruza fresh from the Spaniard’s Australian Open final and played a spectacular second set. A few weeks later she was competitive again against Johanna Konta, but the timing of her comeback was desperate. Two games after their return, the Indian Wells pandemic hit and the tour was suspended.

When tennis resumed last summer, Clijsters reappeared at the World Team Tennis event in July. While it was only an exhibition in a condensed format, it was hard not to be impressed. Clijsters has always been a clean, authoritative striker, but her tremendous athleticism gave her a more balanced style of play. Since her movement naturally diminishes as she ages, better control over the points is essential and she has effortlessly injected more pace and weight into her punches than ever before.

Kim Clijsters returned to the World Team Tennis event in July.Kim Clijsters returned to the World Team Tennis event in July. Photo: Matt Marton / AP

However, luck has not been on their side so far. The Belgian delayed her initial return on the pitch after sustaining a knee injury in late 2019, 21 seed, Ekaterina Alexandrova, in the first round. Last October, she was operated on on the knee and her preparation was further restricted by the infection with Covid-19 in January.

As the tour progressed, Clijsters only reappeared in Chicago last week, where she faced Hsieh Su-wei who won 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. Against one of the sport’s most unorthodox opponents, Clijsters oscillated between periods of clean, destructive aggression and elemental mistakes, but she left the pitch satisfied with her closeness to a top 100 player as she tried to find her way back. Next time this week she will play in Indian Wells where she has a wild card.

The turbulent past few years could have shaken Clijsters’ confidence, but her commitment is admirable. Clijsters says she gets up at 5 a.m. to exercise before her three children wake up and then again during school hours. She has often compared her continued participation in tennis to her friends’ desire to run marathons before they are 40 years old. This is her marathon, she says.

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These stories don’t come without criticism. Chusovitina said that she has received messages from some who believe they are taking places from younger gymnasts by continuing to compete: “That’s my wish and I probably have the right to do what I want,” says she. There are similar feelings towards Clijsters taking wild cards in tournaments and even towards their general indecision.

In reality, both athletes capture the essence of the sport; the challenge of pushing yourself just to see how far you can go; and the relentless motivation it takes to keep working behind the scenes long after your dreams have come true and even though you retire and one tomorrow live happy, fulfilling lives with their families. When they finally do decide to quit for good, they will do so with the satisfaction that their career has gone entirely on their terms.

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