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Bulgarian gymnastic great Yovchev heading to his sixth Olympics this year

01/12/2012 10:30 EST | Updated 03/13/2012 05:12 EDT
SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgaria's Yordan Yovchev will be heading to the London Games in July with a real sense of pride after defying the odds to become the first gymnast to compete at six Olympics.

The 38-year-old Yovchev, who has been the head of his country's gymnastics federation since 2009, qualified for the Games at a test event in London this week. Despite a muscle injury, the winner of one silver and three bronze Olympic medals finished 23rd to clinch one of 30 places up for grabs.

"It is terrific for me as a Bulgarian to take part in six Olympic Games," he told the Presa newspaper on Thursday. "How many countries can list a similar achievement? So, why should we not be proud about this?"

Yovchev won a silver medal in the rings and a bronze in the floor exercise at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, having won bronze in both disciplines in Sydney four years earlier.

However, he believes he will be free from the pressure of needing to win a medal, whatever the cost, when it comes to the competition in London.

"This time I will compete in a more relaxed way, because I know that I don't need to win a medal at any price," he said.

Yovchev said that successes such as his qualification for the Olympics were crucial for the financial survival of gymnastics as a sport in Bulgaria. It also meant he could play down his prospects.

"Of course, I want to win the Olympic title, but I'm not sure whether it is doable," he said.

Yovchev, whose career is likely to end after the London Games, said his age does not allow him to take unjustified risks.

"I have always wanted to step down in the best possible way," he said.

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