AGE SHALL NOT WEARY HIM: Martin Marinov (left) will partner Ferenc Szekszardi in the C2 1000m in Rio, as well as taking on the C1 1000m.
AGE SHALL NOT WEARY HIM: Martin Marinov (left) will partner Ferenc Szekszardi in the C2 1000m in Rio, as well as taking on the C1 1000m. Matt Roberts

'Old man' takes up challenge of his fifth Olympics

IT STARTED as a joke from some of the athletes he had coached, but paddler Martin Marinov took up the challenge to qualify for the Rio Olympics at the ripe old age of 48, only a few months before last summer's selection trials.

His wife, however, was far from amused when he mentioned the idea.

"You're going to die - don't do it,” she told her husband, the winner of two Olympic bronze medals and crowned Mr Bulgaria in 1993.

"She is quite right,” Marinov told Australian Regional Media.

"The last seven to eight years I've been at some nationals in Australia and Bulgaria and I don't know how to go easy - I always push myself in a hard way.

"In a couple of competitions she was going to call an ambulance. I really push myself to the limit during the race.

"I know that she was joking, but at the same time she was quite serious. I won't go to a competition just for fun, even though I'm not as good as I used to be.

"I will still do my best. I could end up in hospital - who knows? I hope not.”

One thing is for sure, Marinov will do everything he can to not embarrass himself as the oldest canoeing athlete to compete at an Olympics.

He will compete for Australia in the C1 1000m, and the C2 1000m with Ferenc Szekszardi, and is coaching Chinese canoeist and gold medal chance Li Qiang.

Rio will be Marinov's seventh Olympics in total and his fifth as a competitor.

Martin Marinov of Australia trains for the 2004 Olympics Games.
Martin Marinov of Australia trains for the 2004 Olympics Games. DAVID GUTTENFELDER

"I'm definitely unfit compared to my best years between 1988 and 1996 (he won bronze at Seoul in 1988 in the C1 500m and at Barcelona in 1992 in the C2 500m, competing for his native Bulgaria), and now I'm many times under this level,” he said.

"I don't doubt that I can go far into the competition or even for a medal, but I'll be the oldest canoe kayak athlete at the Olympics since I can remember.

"We'll do our best not to be last. In our sport if you don't have the right preparation, you cannot win.”

"Some other sports you can have a bit of luck and win - there's not much of that in our sport. But you never know.”

Marinov believes with his experience the much- publicised dirty Rio water could be an advantage to him.

"In Rio anything can happen - it's close to the ocean on an open lake. Dirty water, washy, choppy,” he said. "You don't know. My fitness is not as good as other athletes, but it is still very good and I have a good technique.

"In those conditions I'd be lucky to get a place. In sh***y conditions I think I can do something special.”

So why is Marinov still an Olympian nearing an age when he should instead be thinking of his retirement pension?

"If you like what you're doing, there's nothing to stop you from doing it,” he said.

"Sometimes I could have a bad day or a bad month, or be a little bit fatigued or tired from working with athletes and coaches, but when I like what I'm doing I can refresh very quickly and stay in good shape.

"I'm doing it because I love it, not because I can make money from it.”

Marinov, who migrated to Australia in the late 1990s and represented the country at the Athens 2004 Games, often gets asked about the time he won the Mr Bulgaria bodybuilding crown in 1993.

"There was not much in that. My wife was saying 'you have to go, you have to go', and I won it,” he said.

"But after that I had a few sessions at the Mr Europe contest and I was always more focused on my sport.

"I could have developed a career out of modelling but I never did. It was only a short period of my life and people still like to joke about it.”

There is no laughing at what Marinov has achieved in his extraordinary life, though.

Aside from his efforts in competition and coaching, he has a masters degree in canoeing and physical education and is fluent in six languages.

"I'm a high achiever, but at the same time I've always had higher goals,” he said.

"I always thought whatever I achieved, I could do better. That is the thing which has kept me in the sport because I think, 'Okay, I've achieved good, but what can I do to get better?' I'm positive but always looking for improvement.”

At 48, Marinov has the benefit of perspective, maturity and wisdom, which he passes on to the younger Australian athletes.

"The most important advice I give to athletes is they should not waste their time, because you can never return time,” he said.

"You should never say 'next year' or 'next Olympics'. No - do it now.

"Do everything at your best because no one knows what will happen next year.”

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