Quake survivor becomes first Turkish gymnast in Games

BOLU, Turkey - So excited was Goksu Uctas at the thought of becoming Turkey's first Olympic gymnast, she wanted the five Olympic rings tattooed on her arm.

For now, though, the London-bound athlete has settled for a silver necklace of the famous symbol, which she twirls excitedly in her fingers.

While Turkey excels at wrestling and weightlifting - the nation's men and women have won 67 Olympic medals in the sports - never before has a gymnast participated at the Games in Turkey's red and white national colours.

"All you really need is faith in yourself," the 22-year-old gymnast told Reuters in her dormitory room.

Uctas' Olympic achievement is all the more noteworthy given that as a nine-year-old - a vital stage in a gymnast's development - she survived a catastrophic earthquake which struck north-west Turkey in 1999.

That earthquake killed around 17,000 people and left hundreds of thousand others homeless, including her family.

"We lived in a tent for a year, in constant fear because of aftershocks," Uctas said. "But I never stopped training, even when the gym was being rebuild, I trained outdoors and remained focused on practising as much as I could."

Pinned up on Uctas' wall is a pencil drawing she made for motivation and inspiration, of her heroine Svetlana Khorkina, Russia's Olympic gold winner. Uctas has a talent for drawing, and loves sketching gymnasts, as a way of relaxing after her taxing physical training.


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