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DORNEY, England (Reuters) - Competing at her eighth Olympic Games, 47-year-old Italian kayaker Josefa Idem powered past a field of 20 and 30 year olds on Tuesday to make the final and prove that you can still challenge for a medal at any age.
Having moved to a country that prizes youth and beauty above almost anything else, the German-born Idem had said she was competing in London partly to show women that they could remain successful in sport even as they approach 50.
The result in the toughest semi-final of the day meant Idem has become the first woman to compete in eight Olympic Games, on track to add to her one gold from Sydney, two silvers from Beijing and Athens and bronzes from Atlanta and Los Angeles.
"I don't care about age," a smiling Idem told reporters on the bank of the Dorney Lake Olympic course, watched over by her husband and coach Guglielmo Guerrini. "The stopwatch doesn't ask."
A motivational speaker, journalist and former politician, Idem first competed at an Olympic Games in LA in 1984 for West Germany, and again in Seoul in 1988. She then moved to Italy in 1990 and competed for her adopted nation at Barcelona in 1992.
With age she has had to increase her training to make up for changes in her metabolism and her body after she became a mother.
She had a gym built at her house so she can still see her children when training and dedicates around six hours a day to the sport, with four hours of pure training and two to physiotherapy and mental preparation.
Her programme is designed to allow her to peak for one week every four years, when she races like an "animal". She trains against three junior men, one with a particularly fast start who she has to reel back in.
"Every day you have to work on it, every single day," she said, with a weathered face that reflects the hours she spends outdoors. "And you go out really tired, you go out with bad weather, you go out having problems at home. But you have to go.
"It's the effort you have to put in if you want to succeed. I'm very lucky. Many people do the same amount of work as I do and they don't go to the Olympics. So my motivation comes from the fact I was so lucky and I was so good all these years."
Idem, who likes to campaign against social injustice, said she sees herself in a similar role to Steve Redgrave, the five-times Olympic rowing champion who hugged every British rower as they came off the water at the Olympic regatta last week.
"I always wanted to be an inspiration," she said, flitting between Italian, German and English. "I really like to give to others what I have learned.
"In the rowing races that went so well (for the British), every one of them has spoken about Steve Redgrave. I said, 'chapeau'. It was such a nice image that he gave to the rest of the world. A big champion that is there with his heart.
"This is what someone has to do when you have success. To give back, I have fought for many things but I have also been a very lucky person."
At 48 in September, Idem concedes that London will be her last Olympic Games as a competitor. But she already has her sights on Rio where she would like to work as a journalist, to tell the tales of the competitors at the Games.
First, though, she will challenge the final on Thursday. She was berated by her two sons on Tuesday for having such a slow start but she said that she does not worry. She has seen it all before.
"Just keep calm," she said. (The fast training partner) was a good experience for today. I was confident, I thought, I can make it, I can make it."
Editing by Ed Osmond