Published: Jan 10, 1:55p ET
Updated: Jan 10, 1:55p ET

INTERVIEW: Bulgarian federation's future rests on Jovtchev's shoulders

LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - The prospect of competing at a record sixth successive Olympics is not the only thing spurring Jordan Jovtchev to battle through the pain barrier this week. If the 38-year-old Bulgarian dynamo books his ticket to the London Games in July, it will also ensure the survival of his federation.

"I'm competing to support the Bulgarian gymnastics federation. If we have a gymnast who goes to the Olympic Games, then we will have a head coach, a masseuse, doctors going to the Olympics," Jovtchev, elected president of the body in 2009, told Reuters on Tuesday after competing at the Olympic qualifying event in the North Greenwich Arena.

"If we don't have a male going to the Olympics, it will be tough for the Bulgarian gymnastics federation to survive. (So keeping a lot of people employed) is part of it," he added with a grin.

As a veteran of five Olympics and winner of four world titles, Jovtchev's career is now spilling over into a third decade during which time he has been recognised as Bulgaria's most famous and decorated gymnast.

Jovtchev arrived in London with a torn left shoulder muscle and a sore elbow but hid his pain well to perform the tumbles, twists and turns needed to impress the judges on the six apparatus.

With his distinctive salt-and-pepper hair, Jovtchev could easily be mistaken for an official or a coach whenever he marches into a sporting arena. But lift him up on the rings and the years fade away.

Unsurprisingly he was one of the top performers in the strongman's event and executed an array of manoeuvres which showed off his bulging muscles to great effect on the opening day of the Olympic test event.

Making it all look easy, however, was not easy.

"Making me do six events to qualify. It's so tough on me," said Jovtchev, who could easily turn up for an encore at the O2 Arena later this month when it stages the live stage tour of Dancing With the Stars after shimming his way to fourth place in the Bulgarian version of the show two years ago.

"(Trying to recover from the shoulder injury) took a lot of my energy and it's tough. When you are in pain and trying to train through it, motivation goes down. It took me a lot of time to get ready for this competition.

"At 38, it's really really difficult to get going and do stuff. I guess it's time to finish. (I had said that after Beijing) but it really looks now that I am old," he added.

"Doing one event doesn't really bother me that much if I am healthy. If I'm healthy then it's fun. But if I'm injured and having to do all six events, that's not fun. If it continues like this, I better quit. If I'm healthy, then I enjoy it because whatever you try, then it happens.

"I guess my body is telling me I'm too old for this."

While Jovtchev might feel like a relic competing against a bunch of 20-somethings, he desperately wants to make the 2012 Olympic cut to leave a lasting legacy in the sport.

"I just want to do another Olympics because I will be the only male gymnast who has been to six Olympics. To be here again (at the North Greenwich Arena for the Games in July) will be unique," said the Bulgarian, who has won 17 world and Olympic medals during his career.

"It hurts that I never won an Olympic gold. I am getting old and my chances are now limited to almost zero. I doubt I'll ever get that gold medal now. I'm not really counting on a gold anymore. I'm competing just for fun."

Rate this article


Share this article