Turkish soccer star eyes Olympic ice-skating glory

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BERLIN (Reuters) -- A soccer player who shot to fame playing for Turkey's national team in the 2002 World Cup, has ditched his football boots for ice skates and is now hoping to cover himself in glory at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Ilhan Mansiz showed great promise as a striker in 2002, when he scored three goals, helping his side to a best-ever third place finish in the World Cup. But injury forced him to retire in 2006 and he became a television presenter.

In 2008, at age 32, German-born Mansiz took to the ice for the first time in his life -- as part of a Turkish television show in which celebrities are paired up with professional ice-skaters for a competition lasting several weeks.

Partnered with Olga Bestandigova, a Slovak figure skater who competed in the 2002 Winter Olympics, Mansiz won the show.

Mansiz said Bestandigova -- now his girlfriend -- dreamt of taking part in another Olympic Games but did not have a partner.

"We had so much fun and trained for between six and eight hours a day," he told Reuters. "We came on in leaps and bounds so we decided to train for the Olympics."

The 35-year-old said starting to skate so late was not a problem -- what mattered were motivation and belief.

"I started playing football very late too," he said. "I didn't start playing for a club until I was 14. If you're really determined to achieve something and you believe you can do it or you work hard at it, it's possible no matter how old you are."

Mansiz has said in several interviews that his dream is to qualify and compete for Turkey at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. It was unclear on how his Slovak partner would qualify for the Turkish Olympic team.

The pair are currently training in the southern German town of Oberstdorf, near where Mansiz was born.