Optimistic outlook for plain sailing at 2008 Olympiad

Vangelis Heimonas has all the characteristics of a champion – alongside his studies in international relations at the University of Piraeus, the 25-year-old titleholder of the Greek Laser class is counting down to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. At last August’s pre-Olympic tournament in China, Heimonas came in fifth. Hard training, top physical fitness and the support of his family, friends and sailing federation are what he says are his keys to success. He started sailing at the age of 10 in the Optimist class. At the Sailing Association (NAS), his coaches noticed his talent and he began training on a daily basis. After switching to the Laser class, in just six months he was Greece’s youth champion and also won the Balkan championship. In 1998, he came in second in the world races for youth. «Unfortunately, for a number of reasons I wasn’t ready for the Sydney Olympics, so I set a course for 2004,» he said. Yet luck was not on his side and during the Athens Olympics he was disqualified in the fourth race, putting him in 16th place. Since then he has realized that remaining calm is not enough. «You need a lot more, most of all concentration,» he said. His best memory of the Athens 2004 Olympics was the opening ceremony. «When we walked into the stadium – the enthusiasm! Those are unrepeatable, unbeatable moments.» Now he travels the world to compete against the best athletes, but says he does not neglect his studies or his friends. Asked whether he was interested in politics, he said: «Of course I am. Although most of my friends are apolitical, we are very concerned about things. We all know that the way universities are today cannot last for long. But there’s not much we can do about it, except talk. Young people have the impression that politicians don’t care. They don’t consider young people to be part of society’s future, let alone its most vital component. The fact that the family unit is still strong in Greece makes many young people avoid claiming for themselves what in other countries is taken for granted.» Back to sailing, which is no doubt an expensive sport. «Yes, it is even though we live in a country surrounded by the sea. And because not every pocket can afford it, it doesn’t appeal to most parents for their young children. It is true that when I go abroad I take not only my suit but my boat and all the equipment I need. When the journey is transatlantic, things are even more difficult, as we need a container. Fortunately, the federation supports us. I have also had the support of businessman Giorgos Vassilopoulos all these years. You have to have a sponsor, but they are not easy to find. Sailing is an amateur sport, but training for the Olympics demands professional standards.» A foretaste of the Beijing Olympics came last August at a pre-Olympics regatta. «The races in Beijing will be difficult. There are currents and we have to stay there for long periods in order to get used to them. In other sectors, the Chinese have done a wonderful job. The installations are ready and very impressive. The Chinese are very well organized. As for whether I will succeed – let’s first see if I qualify for the national team.» Doping, he said, is not an issue in sailing. «Fortunately sailing occurs in clean waters. We don’t need banned substances. The sport has to do with your mind.» Heimonas said he has never had second thoughts about his choice of sport. «Sailing, and championship sailing in particular, exhausts the athlete’s body and the mind. But it teaches you about yourself and your limits. You are competing against yourself. When you succeed there are no words to describe the joy. I also admit that the sea, the waves and my boat are all a part of my life. The open sea is my other self. It is where I feel all-powerful and at the same time extremely vulnerable.» Apart from sailing, Heimonas is very interested in his studies. «I might go into diplomacy, I’ll see,» he said about his future. This article appeared in the January 7 issue of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.

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