Men’s gymnastics team fails to qualify for Athens Games

The national men’s gymnastics team’s aspirations for a berth in the team event at next year’s Athens Olympics were wiped out over the weekend by a disappointing performance at the World Championships being held Anaheim, California. Seeking a place among the top 12 to secure its berth in Olympic team competition, the Greek squad ended 25th, despite being billed as one of the contestants to watch. Team scores are determined by tallying the performances of six individual athletes in their specialized events for an aggregate score. Each gymnast’s performance also remains valid for individual competition. Besides missing out on an Olympics team berth, the result in Anaheim also limits Greece’s Olympic participation in the individual men’s events to one athlete. A second gymnast, however, could be admitted as a wild-card entry should the International Olympic Committee allow it. As the situation currently stands, the Greek team would have to choose one of four celebrated athletes for Athens next year. The squad’s ranks include 20-year-old Vlassis Maras, already a two-time world champion on the high bar; Demosthenes Tambakos, a silver medalist on the rings at the Sydney Olympics; Vassilis Tsolakidis, a gold medalist on the parallel bars at last year’s Europeans and, further back in time, Ioannis Melissanidis, a gold medalist on the floor exercises at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Returning to Anaheim, at individual level, only Tambakos managed to qualify for a final, in the rings. He captured third place with a score of 9.725 in the qualifying round. «We [the Greek team] were doing well until the half-way mark but then did not show our true selves. This is not the real picture of the national team. I competed in the rings with the aim of registering the highest score to help the team. I managed to qualify for the final. Now, I’m keeping my ears closed and focusing on the final,» Tambakos said, referring to bickering amid the team’s ranks, sparked by Melissanidis. The Atlanta gold medalist accused the squad’s coach, Savvas Tagtenelidis, of failing to unite the Greek team ahead of the World Championships. Maras, in Anaheim as the twice defending world champion on the high bar, provided one of the major surprises during Sunday’s session by failing to make the final. He made a bad error in the qualifying round to score only 9.337. He also took part in the final of the individual all-around event but ended 37th. The women’s competition began late last night.