SPORTS

Success in track and field no longer comes as a surprise

The task of accurately depicting the healthy state of Greek sport in end-of-year summaries has become tedious in recent years, considering the consistency of success. A local cliche, translated as «It gets better each year,» will have to do. In 2002, the triumphs were widespread. Medals were won at World and European Championships level, which indicate, if not confirm, that Greek sport is on the right track. In track and field events, which make up an integral part of any Olympics, it appears likely that numerous Greek athletes will be heavyweight contenders at the Athens 2004 Olympics. The European Championships in Munich were a triumphant outing for the national team, which raked in four gold medals, two bronze and was heavily represented in finals events. The performance, which ranks as Greece’s best ever at a European Championship, handed the side fifth place overall. The tally probably would have been even more impressive had javelin thrower Costas Gatsioudis competed. But the athlete had withdrawn as a result of an injury inflicted by just one official throw in the year, a 91.23-meter performance. All gold medals carry the same value. But two stood out, one of these being the gold medal won by Olympic and World 200-meter champion Costas Kenteris at the European Championships. For the first time, he ran under 20 seconds to win gold in Munich with a dazzling 19.85-second performance. Kenteris is the only track athlete to have won successive Olympic, World and European titles in the same event. The other stand-out gold medal, somewhat of a surprise, also in Munich, came from discus thrower Katerina Vongoli. Rising late in her career, the 32-year-old Vongoli won gold in the women’s discus with a 64.31-meter performance. Teammate Tassoula Kelesidou, who was considered a more serious contender for gold following silver medals at both the Sydney Olympics and World Championships a year later, won a bronze medal with 63.92 meters. Also, newcomer Aristea Ambatzi captured sixth place. Competing without Ukrainian rival Zhanna Pintusevich, 100-meter sprinter Katerina Thanou had little trouble winning gold in Munich with a time of 11.10 seconds. Another reliable performer, Mirela Manjani, who had won gold at the World Championships in Seville in 1999, won gold in the women’s javelin at Munich with a 67.47-meter throw. Angeliki Tsiolakoudi ended fifth. Hammer thrower Alexis Papadimitriou, another surprise medalist in Munich, won bronze with 80.21 meters. At the European Indoors, Niki Xanthou won gold in the women’s long jump. Georgia Kokloni took bronze in the 60 meters. Another major international performer was the Olympiakos water polo club, which had a perfect season in 2002. The team won the European Championship against Hungary’s Honved, in Budapest, the domestic league and cup titles, and, just days ago, the Super Cup which pits the European Champion against the European Cup winner. In doing so, Olympiakos made European history by becoming the Continent’s first ever team to win all possible club-level titles, domestic and international, within a single season.