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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Privalova Back for 'Russian Winter'

Irina Privalova is making a long-awaited return to athletics after nearly 2 1/2 years away and aims to write her name into history as the oldest women's Olympic track champion.

Privalova, who has not competed since winning the 400-meter hurdles title at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, will run at the IAAF indoor "Russian Winter" meeting in Moscow on Thursday.

She missed the 2001 season after tearing knee ligaments in March, then took the following year off after giving birth to her second child in December 2001.

Shortly after winning the Olympic title, the Russian, who turned 34 last November, announced she was planning to switch to the 800 meters to prolong her career.

"I had some doubts at the beginning when my coach and I decided to make a change, but now I think we made the right choice," the tall Privalova said.

"The hardest thing for me, as a former sprinter, was a psychological adjustment to running long distances."

Privalova said she hoped to compete at the world indoor championships in Birmingham, England, in March, but her main goal this year was the world outdoor championships in Paris.

"I've already won several world indoor titles, but I've never been a world outdoor champion, if you don't count the relays," she said. "So, this is my goal."

Her ultimate target, however, remains the 800-meter title at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

If she succeeds, Privalova, who will be almost 36 in Athens, would become the oldest women's Olympic track champion, beating the record of Romanian Maricica Puica, who won the 3,000 meters at the 1984 Los Angeles Games at the age of 34.

But she said making history was not the main motivation.

"Well, I knew that Merlin Ottey won some world and Olympic medals when she was 30 or something," she said. "But I had no idea about Puica's record. It was news to me."

Privalova started as a sprinter way back in 1979 and has competed at the top level since 1984. She won world indoor titles in the 60, 200 and 400 meters and the 100- and 200-meter sprint double at the 1994 European outdoor championships before switching to the 400-meter hurdles in 2000.

Privalova still holds the European 100-meter record of 10.77 seconds, set in 1994 in Lausanne, and the 60-meter world indoor mark of 6.92 seconds, set 10 years ago in Madrid.

The switch to the 800 meters was remarkable as Privalova had won the Olympic gold in just her eighth hurdles race over 400 meters.

She took a full second off her personal best to win the Sydney final in 53.02 seconds, beating a strong field including defending champion Deon Hemmings of Jamaica.

"Over the years, we have seen several great runners who were able to compete at the highest level not just in one but in two or even three separate events," said Vladimir Parashchyuk, Privalova's husband and coach.

"Cuba's Alberto Juantorena, Czech Jarmila Kratochvilova or American Michael Johnson come to mind. But I don't think there has ever been an athlete, a man or a woman, who won world or Olympic titles at distances ranging from 60 to 800 meters."

Privalova said that being a mother had made her comeback attempt easier.

"They help organize my day in such a way that I don't have a minute of free time. They also make me go to bed early, so I don't have any problems staying up late at night or things like that," she added.

"By having a baby I also had time to recuperate after injury and not rush my comeback. So it has helped me in many ways, and now I feel hungry to compete again."

But Privalova said she would not push herself too fast, too soon.

"My first race will be over the 400, not 800 meters, because I have not competed for over two years and it would be foolish to open my season at a totally new distance," she said.

"I don't want to put extra pressure on myself by going all out at the 800. I want to gradually build myself up to that by running the 200, 400 and 600 first before attempting the 800."

Parashchyuk added: "Right now she could run the 800 in two minutes, eight seconds, but we want to start with something like 1:56. That would make other people a bit nervous."

Mozambique's Maria Mutola won the 800-meter Olympic final in Sydney in 1:56.15 seconds, while the world record of 1:53.28 set by Kratochvilova 20 years ago still looks out of reach.

When pressed if she planned to finish her career after the 2004 Games, Privalova just smiled. "Let's wait and see. If things go the way we plan, I can stay in the sport until I'm 40," she said.

"And if I ever run out of events on the track, there is always a marathon to enter, and you can be 50 and still do that."