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Damme, Belgium's first male gymnastic Olympian in half a century
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In the star-studded contingent of athletes in the Beijing Games, Koen Van Damme may be obscured by his shining peers but the Belgian is equally proud for the mere fact that he is his country's first male gymnast in the Olympics in nearly half a century.

"For Belgium gymnastics, there had not been any male gymnast in the Olympics since 1960, and I am the first one," a beaming Koen said after finishing his two-hour pre-game training at the National Indoor Stadium on Thursday.

"It (winning an Olympic spot) is very special. It's a little bit unique for the country. I feel very proud that I can be here in the Games to show my country what gymnastics is," the 21-year-old said.

Koen, who competed in the World Cup in China's Tianjin city this year and made it to the final, said gymnastics is not popular in his country. He hoped that his performance at the Beijing Games will help draw more of its countrymen to the sport.

His goal for the Beijing Games is "to finish among the top 24 players". "I think I have my chance if I do normally in my competition," he said.

But winning a place as one of the top 24 is not his only goal. "In fact, I had set two goals. Going to the Olympics is my first goal, and the second is to enter the top 24," he said. He said he is happy that the first goal has already been achieved.

"If I don't do well in the competition, I hope I can still be happy with the fact that I already met my first goal of being in the Beijing Games," he said.

Koen believed the Chinese men's team will be the biggest winner as they are "of an exceptional level" and will be playing on their home turf.

"They will get at least five gold medals, namely, team, all-round, pommel, rings and floor. At team, they are unbeatable."

After his arrival in Beijing on July 31, Koen said he has two training sessions everyday, and the training venue is great.

He also enjoyed his stay in the Olympic village. "The condition of the village is very good. I really like the rooms and everything is perfect. It's really amazing that there are so many choices of food and the people are also friendly."

Koen said he is currently in the army of Belgium. The army allows him not to do normal army jobs so that he can have the time for training. "We all take the Beijing Olympics very seriously," he added.

(Xinhua News Agency August 1, 2008)

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