Oksana Chusovitina & Svetlana Boginskaya

“When Svetlana is next to me as a coach, I feel confident.” (Oksana)
“That’s very flattering to me!” (Svetlana)

Former team mates – Svetlana Boginskaya (left) and Oksana Chusovitina in London earlier this year. (Photo copyright Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

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 performs at the Superstars of Gymnastics event in London, March 2018. (Photo courtesy Jamie McPhilimey / Matchroom Multi Sport)

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.

Casimir Schmidt – a passion for fashion and cooking

Casimir Schmidt at Superstars of Gymnastics – (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

27 June 2019 – At the Dutch national championships last weekend, Casimir became all-around champion, a title that had eluded him since he first won it in 2013. Now aged 23, he is working hard to reach his goal of competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I met him in March at the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London, where he got into the spirit of the occasion by colouring his hair green. This, with his trademark Dutch orange leggings, earned him the nickname “the gymnastics carrot”! 

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Ellie Downie – back in the medal hunt

“Gymnastics is getting so much harder”

Elissa Downie of Great Britain (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

27 April 2019 – European all-around champion in 2017, Ellie Downie of Great Britain then spent over a year recovering from surgery – twice – on her left ankle. She returned to competition at the 2018 world championships, then became British champion in March. In April she won the all-around silver medal and bronze on vault at the European championships. I talked to her about what it took to make a successful comeback.

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James Hall – perseverance pays off

“It’s so exciting to be the top dog”

James Hall of Great Britain (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)

3rd April 2019 – Bronze medalist in the last European all-around competition, James is a top prospect for next week’s European championships in Poland. Now 23 years old, he struggled for many years to reach this level and is a perfect example of the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”. He talked to Gym Stars just before the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London.

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Danusia Francis – putting on a show

“I adore and worship Usain Bolt

Danusia “does a Bolt” at the Superstars of Gymnastics (Photo courtesy Jamie McPhilimey / Matchroom Multi Sport)

19 March 2019 – This Saturday, 24-year-old Danusia, a former British gymnast now representing Jamaica, takes part in the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London. It will suit her very well, having competed for college gymnastics in the USA where they like to entertain the audience. I chatted with her after the 2019 English championships. 

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Amelie Morgan – 2019 English champion

“I’m absolutely over the moon!”

Amelie Morgan of England & Great Britain (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

11th March 2019 –  In her first year as a senior (she turns 16 in May) Amelie Morgan was delighted to win the English all-around title, which makes her a top prospect for the British championships coming up this weekend. I spoke to her after her win.

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Max Whitlock “we’re looking at the bigger picture”

Max Whitlock of Great Britain after competing in pommel horse qualifications at the 2018 European Championships (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)

12 August 2018 – When Max just missed out on the gold medal to Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan at the Commonwealth Games in early 2018, it set up the prospect of an exciting re-match between himself and Rhys at the European championships in Glasgow. I spoke to Max both before and after the pommel horse final – where a mistake left him in seventh place.

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