Fokianos Sports Center in central Athens gets second wind

By Youli Eptakoili

“I had gone for a run in the National Garden and I ended up at the old Fokianos Sports Center. I realized then that the place held great potential,” said Tonia Gounitsioti, an experienced personal trainer who helps to run and teaches at some of Athens’s largest gyms.

“When you exercise indoors there is no sky, no fresh air, no sunlight,” she added, which is why a year ago she decided to begin an outdoors exercise program, Street Workout Athens.

Such programs may be common elsewhere but this was a new initiative for Greece. Gounitsioti and Angeliki Gerolimou, a member of the national water polo team and an Olympic medalist, started the first outdoor gym on the premises of the Fokianos Sports Center, bringing a collection of apparatus to the space next to the open-air basketball and soccer courts. Now, they teach a variety of programs including yoga, Pilates, weightlifting and CrossFit to small groups, which, Gounitsioti says, offer a form of psychotherapy.

“It is hard to persuade people to change their routine and try exercising outdoors, but once they do they stick with it. The only way to keep up with the pace of city life is to adopt habits that make us happy. A city that tires us should offer a means of escape, a chance to look at the sky while exercising and to breathe clean air beneath the trees,” Gounitsioti says.

“We are lucky because the Athenian weather enables us to exercise outdoors for most of the year,” she says.

But why would someone pay to attend an outdoor gym when they can exercise in any park for free? “It’s true there are many beautiful parks in Athens, but we offer progressive exercise programs adjusted to individual needs,” Gounitsioti responds.

“And when we are not using it, our outdoor gym is open to the public for free. We want to emphasize that the Fokianos Sports Center is for all.”

Even though it is located in the most central and arguably the most beautiful location in Athens, the Fokianos Sports Center is not widely known among the public. A recent public survey found that most Athenians hadn’t heard of it.

It was established in the late 19th century by Ioannis Fokianos, one of Greece’s first sports teachers and an author of sports books who had a great influence on the Greek sports scene at the time. The center features gyms, offices, changing rooms, storage areas and an outdoor space covering a total area of 1,000 square meters.

Six months ago, the center’s board of directors, led by its president Panayiotis Angelopoulos, decided to launch renovations. The works are being overseen by Dimitris Stathopoulos and the results are already evident.