Changing China

Giant on the move

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Oxana’s battle to save her son’s life


German gymnast Oxana Chusovitina is getting ready for her fifth Olympics for a third country in August. That would be by itself unusual enough under normal circumstances.  


The fact that the 32-year-old — who began her career for the Soviet Union before its demise and then for her native Uzbekistan before moving to Germany — is twice the age of some of her rivals in a sport long the domain of teenagers is another feat on its own.

But what makes Chusovitina’s tale even more incredible is that her ambition was fired by a battle to save the life of her son, Alisher. He was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukaemia at the age of 3 in 2002. There were no specialist oncology facilities in Uzbekistan and her family had no health insurance. So with the speedy help of some friends  in the gymnastics world from Cologne she moved to Germany, learned German, and eventually became a German citizen in 2006.

“There was no child oncology in Uzbekistan and in Russia you don’t have a chance because there are already so many on the waiting lists,” Chusovitina said in an interview after a high-energy training session in Cologne under the watchful eye of her coach, Shanna Polyakova. “I’d known Shanna and Peter Brueggemann at Team Toyota Cologne for a long time and they organised everything. They found a spot in hospital for me and fortunately we came here.”