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Bulgarian gymnastic great Jovtchev heading to his 6th Olympics this year

01/12/2012 11:08 EST | Updated 03/13/2012 05:12 EDT
SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgaria's Jordan Jovtchev has qualified for his sixth Olympics.

The gymnast, who turns 39 next month, qualified for the London Games on Tuesday at the test event at the O2 Arena. In a sport that prizes youth, Jovtchev's staying power is every bit as impressive as the skills he does.

"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?"

German gymnast Oksana Chusovitina also will be competing in her sixth Olympics. Chusovitina, who turns 37 in June, helped the German women qualify for the London Games during the world gymnastics championships last fall.

Jovtchev is a four-time Olympic medallist , having won a silver on still rings, his specialty, and a bronze on floor exercise at the 2004 Olympics in Athens after winning bronzes on both events four years earlier in Sydney. He's also won 13 medals at the world championships, including the titles on both rings and floor in 2003 and 2001.

His last medal was a silver on rings at the 2009 world championships, also in London. But he believes he will be free from the pressure of needing to win a medal when it comes to the next 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," Jovtchev said.

Jovtchev, who has been head of Bulgaria's gymnastics federation since 2009, 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.

Jovtchev, who was nursing a muscle injury, qualified for one of the individual Olympic spots available at the test event. Jovtchev's illustrious career is likely to end after the London Games, and he 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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