- Title: BULGRIA: Bulgaria looks to women's wrestler Zlateva for Olympic gold
- Date: 22nd May 2008
- Summary: ZLATEVA AND COACH WRESTLING
- Embargoed: 6th June 2008 13:00
- Location: Bulgaria
- Country: Bulgaria
- Topics: Sports
- Reuters ID: LVA6AUXSWZ17X7PLMDDVHOXEM670
- Story Text: Raw talent, tough-minded ambition and an attractive personality have made wrestler Stanka Zlateva a hot property at a time when sport in Bulgaria desperately needs new heroes.
Wrestling is hugely popular in Bulgaria, women's wrestling, though, is relatively new and will be on the Olympic programme for only the second time in Beijing.
The picturesque Belmeken Lake, in the foothills of the Rila mountains, is home to the Belmeken High Mountain Sports Complex. Here, at 2050m above sea level, Bulgaria's women's wrestling champion Stanka Zlateva is hoping to revitalise the sport.
25-year old Zlateva switched to freestyle wrestling from pentathlon eight years ago.
"My involvement with wrestling happened accidentally. My ex-trainer introduced me to it and I loved it. I was training in another discipline before," she told Reuters.
Bulgaria is looking to Zlateva, who won her third European title last month, to help restore its reputation at the Olympics.
The Balkan country finished third in the medals table at the boycott-hit 1980 Moscow Olympics but lost ground after the fall of communism in 1989 and won only two gold medals in Athens four years ago, neither of them in wrestling -- a sport which has given Bulgaria 16 Olympic and 52 world titles.
Men's wrestling was a feature of the ancient Olympics and has been on the programme since the first modern Games in 1896. Wrestler Nikola Stanchev became Bulgaria's first Olympic champion when he won gold at the Melbourne Games in 1956.
Zlateva, who dominates women's wrestling in her 72-kg category, wants to spark new interest in women's wrestling, which made its Olympic debut in Athens four years ago.
"We see that elite female athletes in sports like tennis or athletics, for example, enjoy enormous popularity. They also get millions in advertising campaigns and sponsors. There aren't any sponsors in wrestling which is why we are not under the spotlight," she said.
According to Zlateva's coach, Simeon Shterev, women's wrestling is developing quickly and athletes like Stanka will help its boom.
"Women's wrestling is becoming more and more attractive. And more and more countries are promoting and cultivating the sport," he said.
Shterev also coaches men, but says he prefers to watch women's wrestling.
"More and more of our leading names in women's sports are turning to women's wrestling and that's why I'm sure the sport will have a bright future at the next Olympics," he said.
Shterev knows that his charge, Bulgaria's athlete of the year in 2007, will be under pressure from the media and sports officials at home when she competes in Beijing in August. But he believes that she ranks amongst the best in the word and has the winning instinct.
"Stanka doesn't have problems with her condition. She is very ambitious and determined, and she shows it in every training session. It won't be easy though. The Olympic Games are different. There is enormous tension between the athletes there because the stakes are so high."
Zlateva, who won the gold medal at the European championships in Tampere in April without conceding a single technical point, is not afraid of the competition.
"One olympic medal can completely change your life. It's the biggest achievement a sportsman can dream of. I hope everything goes well for me and that I win a medal," she said.
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