Greeks fight to prepare for Olympics

With one hurdle left, something snapped.

It wasn’t a bone or anything that serious, but Greek athlete Periklis Iakovakis somehow lost power and quickly dropped from first to last in the European Championship 400-meter hurdles final, unable to summon enough energy to keep going strong.

It’s that kind of an Olympic year for athletes from crisis-hit European nations preparing for the London Games — always another obstacle.

“Of course, the crisis affects you because the world of athletics, the world of sports, it is part of society,» Iakovakis told The Associated Press. «If you consider I have a family and I have two children, everything is inside my mind because I also have to think of the future.”

Greece is mired in a crisis likened to the Great Depression. The country is in its fifth year of recession, unemployment tops 22 percent, and after the economy contracted by 6.5 percent in the first quarter of 2012, the government expects it to shrink a stunning 9.1 percent in the third quarter alone.

Europe has long been the cradle and the bedrock of the Olympic movement, a wealthy continent that staged games at will. But eight years after organizing the Athens Games, Greece is so cash-strapped and debt-ridden that it is struggling to send its athletes fully prepared.

“Now I have to search the Internet to find the best flight, the best fare option depending on the dates I want to travel,» said the 33-year-old Iakovakis, who won the 400-meter hurdles bronze medal at the 2003 world championships and gold at the 2006 European Championships.


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