“When Svetlana is next to me as a coach, I feel confident.” (Oksana)
“That’s very flattering to me!” (Svetlana)
August 2019 – These two gymnasts competed together on the last-ever Soviet gymnastics team (called the “Unified” team) at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. They both went on to compete at the 1996 Olympic Games – Oksana for Uzbekistan and Svetlana for Belarus – but little did they know that 23 years later, Oksana would still be competing at the age of 44, and Svetlana would be her part-time coach!
Oksana, what do you remember about being on the Soviet team with Svetlana?
The best memories I have was that Svetlana had already competed at one Olympics, and was already an Olympic champion. When I walked in to the gym to train at the national training centre, and I saw Svetlana, I felt such a pride that I was in the same gym as her. I couldn’t believe that I was standing next to the person that I had been admiring for so long.
Svetlana, what were your first impressions of Oksana?
I don’t remember Oksana so much when she first came to the national training centre. But when I turned around and saw this huge round-off, back handspring, double layout, I was like, ‘who is this new chick? Like, she can tumble! Where did she come from? She’s tiny, but oh my goodness, she can tumble!’ So that’s how she got my attention!
Svetlana, you are occasionally Oksana’s coach, is that just at smaller events?
Yes – as much as I would like to, it’s such a big commitment to travel all over the world. I have a family with two young children, I’m not going to be moving to another country because I live in America [in Houston, Texas] and my kids have to finish schooling, so I come whenever I can to support her. Anything except Asian Games, world championships or Olympics, because I’m not officially coaching for Uzbekistan.
Oksana, what’s she like as a coach?
I will be honest with you, when Svetlana is standing next to me as a coach I feel very comfortable, and I feel confident.
Svetlana: That’s very flattering to me!
Oksana, you are also an athletes representative for the International Gymnastics Federation. What does that involve?
We have meetings five times a year in Switzerland. My job consists of all the athletes who are not happy with the equipment, with anything, on all international competitions from any country. They can write directly to me, and I will talk to the president of the technical committee and the judges, and I make sure that all athletes with an issue will be heard, and those issues will be fixed.
What sort of issues have you been dealing with recently?
When they travel, athletes complain that gymnasiums are very cold, with lots of air-conditioning. You need to keep your body warm, because if you get cold, injuries could happen. Another issue is warm-up on bars. At all the major competitions, there’s never enough time. There are just so many issues with bars, it’s been a constant struggle.
But the main subject has been qualification for the Olympics. There’s been a lot of discussion going on. It used to be only one way to qualify, now it’s two ways. [World championships and World Cups]. There’s the event finalists, the all-around finalists, and the team. There’s so many issues, it’s confusing for everybody. It’s been a major, major subject. It’s almost over but people still don’t understand certain rules.
You’ve been competing at a lot of World Cup events this year, do you know if you have qualified for the Olympics yet?
I’m not qualified just yet. Another chance I’m going to take is competing in the all-around at the world championships, because I don’t have a team. Gymnasts from countries that don’t have teams can still qualify from the all-around competition, so I’m hoping to make the Olympics by that ranking.
Not only are you still doing gymnastics, but you are increasing the workload – how do you do it?
Many people ask me this question! All I can say is, I’m enjoying it, I love the sport, I don’t have many injuries, and I just keep going because I like it.
Oksana, your son Alisher was born in late 1997 – tell us about him.
My son lives in Germany. He loves Germany, it’s his favourite country. When he was 2 years old he got sick with leukaemia and we went there. [for medical treatment]. He’s finishing high school right now, and hoping to make his life there. He plays basketball.
While you were living there, you obtained German citizenship and competed for Germany for several years. What made you switch back to competing for Uzbekistan?
I am grateful and thankful what Germany did for my family and especially for my son, but my home and my heart is in Uzbekistan, so I spend my time mostly there.
Oksana is a vault specialist who has competed in seven consecutive Olympic Games, winning an individual silver medal on vault in 2008. She is planning to compete in the all-around at the world championships in Stuttgart in October.