Maras sets his sights on 2004

Greece’s Vlassis Maras confirmed his status as master of the horizontal bar discipline on Sunday, retaining his title at the Gymnastics World Championships in Debrecen, Hungary. But the 19-year-old student, who stunned the audience with a daring display and nailed his triple-twisting dismount to perfection, is not resting on his laurels. Maras already has his mind set on his career’s next important challenge, the World Championships in Los Angeles next year, where qualifying berths for the Athens 2004 Olympics will be determined. «We need to present ourselves as a strong team for the ticket to the Athens Olympics,» remarked Maras, whose maturity seems years ahead of his age when he talks. He dedicated his latest triumph to «all who love me and support my efforts.» Delighted by his performance on Sunday, Maras punched the air in delight right after his routine knowing that gold was his for the taking after drawing a score of 9.725 from the judges. Popular Belarussian Ivan Ivankov finally made it to the medals podium during these championships to claim joint silver with Aljaz Pegan of Slovenia. «The three of them were excellent. All three could have won. Vlassis’s medal was determined by his dismount, which is not executed by any other gymnast in the world today,» remarked Maras’s trainer, Dimitris Raptis. «He is a great athlete, and as I see it, the best this country has produced,» he added. Korean Yang Tae-seok, who had qualified in fourth position, suffered a dreadful fall when his chin hit the bar during a full twisting somersault release and catch move. He crashed to the mat flat on his back as the packed Fonix Hall crowd looked on in horror. Barely able to regain his balance, Yang could not complete his routine and was led away by his coach. In Los Angeles, Maras plans to repeat the routine that earned him his latest gold medal. He will also compete in team events to boost the national team’s chances of an Olympic berth for team events. «There we’ll be seeking a berth for the national team. Our aim is to accumulate a high score and help the team get through,» Raptis said. «Of course, Maras will also take part in the horizontal bar, where he will compete for a gold medal,» the trainer added. (Kathimerini/Reuters)

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