No medals for Greek track and field stars at the World Indoors

It isn’t easy to arrive at a clear verdict over the Greek national track and field team’s performance at last weekend’s World Indoors in Birmingham, where it won no medals. Considering the string of successes by Greek athletes in recent years, the team’s empty-handed return could, superficially, be deemed a failure. But a closer look would indicate otherwise. For one thing, the Greek team was not fully prepared, and secondly, its strengths are not best suited to indoor competition. A look at recent triumphs, at outdoor events, lends support to this. The bulk of the national team’s medals have come from sprint events – 100 and 200 meters – as well as field events such as the discus throw, javelin, and hammer throw, none of which are included on the agenda of indoor competition. Also, the team’s two top sprinters, Costas Kenteris, the reigning the Olympic, World and European Champion in the 200 meters, and Katerina Thanou, the current European Champion and silver medalist in the 100 meters at the Sydney Olympics, both missed the event. At the previous World Indoors, in 2001, Greece’s best performance was an eighth placing. This time around, the team’s top showing was a fifth place by Niki Xanthou in the long jump, with a 6.47-meter leap. In the same event, Stella Pilatou ended sixth, with the same distance. Long-distance runner Maria Tsirba broke a national record in the 3,000 meters with a time of 8:52.21 for eighth place. On what facts, then, does all the talk of failure rest on? Pundits of this view would, quite simply, cite the lack of a single medal. Another point they could raise is the failure of two athletes, Pilatou in the long jump and Pygi Devetzi in the triple jump, to do well in their events despite going into the Championships with the best performances in the world so far this year. Devetzi even failed to qualify for the final. Overall, one could argue that the Greek team neither succeeded nor failed. This, incidentally, is how the squad’s head coach, Odysseas Papatolis, feels. «If our triple-jump girls had qualified for the final and won a medal, it would have been super. Tsirba’s performance was one of the positive things to come out of this,» Papatolis said. «These games don’t count as a measure for Greek track and field. Kenteris and Thanou did not run, while our other sprinters stand out in Europe, but not globally. I believe we will do better in the summer,» he said, referring to the world outdoor championships in Paris. Tsirba’s eighth place in the women’s 3,000 meters offered hope for stronger presence by Greek athletes in the long-distance events. «I had prepared well, but at an open-air venue. Indoor competition was not an objective,» Tsirba said. «If all goes well, I believe that I’ll be able to run the 1,500 meters in 4:05 by the summer. I will also compete in the 5,000 meters.»

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