Johanna Quaas, 86, who trains on the parallel bars

Johanna Quaas dabbled in gymnastics in her youth, just for fun. But, after a while, she dropped that hobby completely. Her serious gymnastics training began only at 56.

After twenty years of training, Johanna, now in her 80s, has achieved star status in the sport, regularly receiving standing ovations after her performances.

In recent years, Quaas won 11 competitions and beat the gymnastics age record.

I photographed Johanna at a university gym in a small town near Berlin where she’s lived for many years. To see an 86 year old woman who is in amazing shape, and easily performs on the parallel bars, leaves a strong impression. But, I was truly blown away by something else. That day, a 20 year old gymnast was training for the Olympics in the same gym. At one point, he did a handstand and, straightening out to be perfectly vertical, froze in this position. Johanna watched him with interest.

“Could you do that?” I asked her out of curiosity.

86 year old Johanna smiled and, with complete ease and seemingly no effort, assumed the same perfect handstand next to the 20 year old Olympic athlete.

(Text and photo by Vladimir Yakovlev)