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Interview: Aljaz Pegan (Slovenia)
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The numbers tell the story of Aljaz Pegan's incredible career.

The venerable Slovenian has competed in 14 world championships — every one since his first appearance in 1989.

Aljaz Pegan

Six times he has competed in the high bar final at worlds — winning four medals, including the gold in 2005.

He is ranked No. 1 on high bar in the FIG World Cup points system; with more than 750 points, he has nearly 300 points more than the next highest gymnast.

The only unimpressive number in Pegan's career is zero. That's the number of Olympics he has been in. Four Olympics have passed since his first world championships appearance, three have passed by since his first world championships final and one has passed since his first world medal.

At the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, he barely missed qualifying to the Olympics. It was the first time that the qualifying system — which traditionally grants berths to the strongest teams and all-arounders — allowed individuals to earn berths to the Olympics by winning an apparatus gold medal. But Pegan won the silver on high bar in Stuttgart, and although it was another world championship medal, it wasn't enough to earn him a trip to Beijing.

At age 33, Pegan points out that trying one more time to qualify to the Olympic Games in 2012 may be unrealistic.

So for the next five months, the most important number for Aljaz Pegan is one. There is one single remaining berth to the 2008 Olympic Games, a wild card spot to be decided in April by a Tripartite Committee made up of one member each from the FIG, the IOC and the 2008 Olympic organizing committee. It is the number one that keeps Pegan's Olympic dreams alive today.

In this IG Online interview, Pegan talks about his numbers, his Olympic hopes and the efforts he and his country are making to convince the Tripartite Commission that he is deserving of its selection.


IG: Aljaz, how are you coping with the fact that you have won World gold and silver medals, but have to fight for a wild card to Beijing?

AP: It has always been difficult knowing that being one of the best gymnasts in the world is not enough for qualifying to the Olympic Games. I am not the only one who is in the same situation — there are quite a few gymnasts who are among the best on their apparatus and cannot go to the Olympic Games. In my case, this is even more obvious as I have been competing at the highest level for so many years. Since my first finals in [the 1994 Worlds in] Brisbane I have won four medals at the World Championships, yet three Olympic Games have already gone by without me being there. I hope these are not going to be the fourth in a row.

Pegan receives a hug from Germany's Fabian Hambüchen at the 2007 Worlds

IG: What do you think of the selection process? Do you think it is fair, or should reigning world medalists receive automatic Olympic berths?

AP: Gymnastics has a certain amount of places at the Olympic Games and the current system has been out of date for a number of years, preventing the best gymnasts in the world from competing at the Olympic Games. It is unfair that we compete throughout the cycle in numerous World Cup events and then can qualify only through one qualifying competition — the World Championships. What if the best gymnast is ill at that time or his partner is expecting a baby and cannot compete on that day? In my opinion the World Cup events should have more weight in the qualification process, — only then we will really have the best gymnasts competing at the biggest competition in everyone's career. The president of the FIG, Bruno Grandi, has been trying to fight for our position for several years now, but I fear that it will be too late for many of us before anything changes.

IG: How did the petition get started, and how many signatures have you received so far?

AP: The petition came to me quite as a surprise — the Slovenian Gymnastics Federation started the process at the congress of the European Gymnastics Union in Prague in October. It was amazing that more than two-thirds of European countries signed the letter of support, including Mr. Dimitrios Dimitropulos — the president of the UEG and Mr. Gianfranco Marzolla, president of the UEG Men's Technical Committee. In Slovenia, the letter of support was signed by the most prominent people from all walks of life, and the Slovenian prime minister spoke about the issue recently with the prime minister of China at a state meeting.

A month ago, the Web site was launched in the Slovenian language and more than 40,000 people wrote in, expressing their support. For comparison, this number represents 2 percent of our population, which would be equivalent to more than 5 million U.S. citizens. The Web site will be soon available for English-speaking users as well and I hope that many people, who I met throughout my long career, will support the initiative.

IG: When will you know for sure about the wild card berth?

AP: The Tripartite Commission, which decides about the Wild Card, will be selected in January and they will reach their decision sometime before April. I hope that I will be able to enjoy the moment of decision. After being at 14 World Championships and winning more than 50 medals at major international competitions, I would like to compete at THE biggest of them all, if only to experience the spirit of the Olympic Games.

IG: Is the "wait" distracting to you, or does it give you more motivation to train?

AP: I am trying to push the issue out of my head, nevertheless, it keeps coming back. There are too many "What if's?" to be able to focus completely, but I believe that the right thing will be done, and this sometimes helps me to train even harder than before.

IG: What are some of your competitive goals for 2008?

AP: I would like to put another difficult skill in my routine in order to have a 7.0 Start Value. Apart from that, I plan to start the season well on the World Cup circuit in March, then win a medal at the European Championships in May and finally, to stand under the Olympic circles in Beijing in August. After that, I think everyone will need a bit of rest.

IG: Will you compete after the Beijing Olympics?

AP: My first World Championships were in 1989 in Stuttgart and I hope that my last one has not already happened in the same city. It is becoming more difficult to motivate myself year after year, after winning nearly everything there is possible. I would like to carry on with my gymnastics, but I am not sure I can wait four more years in order for rules to change or someone to invite me to the Olympic Games. Going to Beijing would boost my spirits and belief that there is justice in gymnastics world.

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