By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA (Reuters) - Double Olympic champion Ekaterina Karsten may seek to prolong her illustrious career by another two years and make history in rowing by competing at the Games for the eighth time in Tokyo in 2020, the 46-year-old Belarusian said.
Karsten is one of only two rowing athletes who have competed at seven or more Olympics with Canada's female coxswain Lesley Thompson participating eight times between 1984 and 2016, when she became the oldest rower at the Rio Games at the age of 56.
Known to shy away from interviews, Karsten, whose love affair with rowing began at the age of 15 in 1987 in the old Soviet Union system, said she still has no intention to quit the sport.
"At the moment, I'm preparing to take part in the four (skulls) at the world championship in Plovdiv and we'll see what's going to happen there," she told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Dismissing any notion of announcing her retirement anytime soon, Karsten said she is eager to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.
"Of course, I want to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, it would be my eighth Olympic appearance," Karsten said. "And it would be amazing to finish my career with a medal at the Olympics. That would be super, a perfect career end!
"But I still don't know," she said, choosing her words carefully. "We'll see if I would be healthy in two years and I have to look at my family as my husband's health is deteriorating."
Karsten, who has six world titles in her collection, won Belarus' first Olympic gold medal at the Games in Atlanta in 1996 and managed to defend her title in Sydney four years later in a photo finish following a tremendous battle with Bulgarian Rumyana Neykova.
The Belarusian announced her retirement following the Games in Rio two years ago but quickly changed her mind after finding that life without rowing could be difficult and boring.
"It was difficult after stopping and I only needed a month without competitions and adrenaline to realise I have to return," she said. "I've always loved the challenge of rowing.
"It's my dream job, my hobby became my job. I really love to do it."
Karsten knows that a return to her dominant form would be hard but has been encouraged by results in the last few months.
"I don't feel tired, even at my age," she said. "My results this year are not my personal best but they are close to my all-time best results. I could say that this is one of my best years in terms of results."
In June, Karsten won the Belarus titles in single sculls and quadruple skulls.
She heaped praise on German coach Norbert Laderman for improving her after the Games in Athens in 2004.
"He even advised me to stop taking any medication other than magnesium," Karsten said, describing her work with Laderman as "one of the most significant changes in her career". "He told me that all I needed was to be eating properly."
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Christian Radnedge)