By Martyn Herman

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Golfers and gymnasiums do not always mix, but British Open champion Henrik Stenson has been pumping iron in the Olympic village in preparation for his opening round on Thursday.

Swede Stenson will be one of the favorites for gold on golf's return to the Olympic Games after a 112-year absence and while other top names have shunned the event, he is taking it seriously, regarding it as just below a major in importance.

"I was in the gym on Sunday evening and if you want to get motivated that is definitely the place to be," Stenson said after his practice on a rain-hit Wednesday.

"I didn't try and go for some dead lifts on 80 or 90kg when there is some guy holding 180kg straight up on both arms.

"I was sticking to my routines and exercises that I know I can do and looks good!"

Apart from the bi-annual Ryder Cup between Europe and the U.S., golfers play for themselves.

This week's action on the newly-built course on the Marapendi Nature Reserve will see them playing for their country, with no prize money at stake, just medals.

"It has a slightly different feel and it should have, it is the Olympics," Stenson told reporters.

"The beauty of this event is if you are third you are actually going to be leaving with something. If you are third at a major you get world ranking points and a nice check -- but I would definitely trade a third at a major with a bronze medal."

He is going for gold though and said in years to come no one would remember the players such as Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy who decided against making the trip.

"It is up there among the best things you can win for sure," Stenson said. "I think 10 years down the line you are going to look at who won the gold medal rather than who wasn't here."

The tournament will be run on traditional lines with four rounds deciding the medals.

Stenson is partnering Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello on Thursday in the last grouping.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)