By Daniel Bases
DORNEY, England (Reuters) - Some days Italy's Josefa Idem paddled her kayak like Mozart and others it was like the rock band U2, but after eight Olympic Games the music is stopping on a stellar career with five medals.
Her husband and coach Guglielmo Guerrini said on Thursday after her last race that having an athlete to watch and nurture such as Idem was like being a conductor.
"I study human movement. And this is the maximum possible capacity of the human body to move, Josefa, and that kind of athlete. For me it is like being the conductor and director of the Berlin Philharmonic," said Guerrini, assessing his wife's fifth-place finish in the women's K1 500m sprint.
"It is also Mozart's concerto for four horns. Sometimes it is also U2 rock music. It is something that gives you power and sensation," Guerrini told reporters.
Idem, nearly 48, first competed for her native West Germany in 1984 and 1988 before moving to Italy in 1990.
She won gold in Sydney in 2000, a silver medal in both Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008), and bronze in Atlanta (1996) and Los Angeles (1984).
In her last Olympic Games against women nearly half her age, she was just three tenths of a second from a bronze medal and under two seconds from gold.
"So here, I have raced. I have competed and I am very happy about that because there were moments in which I was very tired mentally by racing," Idem said after leaving the water on a sun-filled morning, switching easily in her interviews between English, Italian, German and French.
The mother of two boys, nine and 17, says she is interested in going to the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but as a journalist to tell the stories not of the ultimate winners.
"We are always talking about the absolute winners and it is necessary also to talk about the nice stories of losers," she said, adding she hopes she is inspiring people of her generation not to sit in on the couch but get up and move.
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.
"I did world championships when I was pregnant and I qualified for the Olympics when I was breast feeding. Both pregnancies," she said.
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 for physiotherapy and mental preparation.
"But now I want to do other things... My kids, they are waiting for me. The little one says to me in the afternoon, mommy, we go to buy some souvenirs," Idem said.
Her competitors praised her mettle and work ethic.
"She is very good and amazing.... It is a fantastic achievement of hers that at this age she is competing in a final, so I have the most respect for her," said the 25-year old gold medal winner, Danuta Kozak of Hungary.
South Africa's Bridgitte Hartley, the bronze medal winner, fighting back tears of joy after exiting the water, echoed the sentiment.
"I definitely am inspired by her because I don't think I could ever do what she's done. I think it's absolutely brilliant that she's competed in so many Olympics and gotten so many medals. She's a mother, and I definitely think she's going to be a legend in the sport," Hartley said.
While her career ended not at crescendo, it may not be entirely over as there is a little bit of music still left in her paddle.
"We don't know. I don't think this is the last race," said Guerrini. "Maybe there are the Italian championships in one month. Why not say bye-bye to Italian sports people. We are at the right time here."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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