Track and field squad promises more medals at the Olympics

The athletes returning from the ninth World Athletics Championships, which were held in Paris, expressed their hope that Greece will earn more track and field medals at next year’s Athens Olympics than the four earned at the World Championships. «I believe we will be more successful in 2004 because there are many new athletes with huge potential,» said discus thrower Anastasia Kelesidou, who earned a silver medal. Greece missed Costas Kenteris, who was forced to pull out of the 200-meter race with tendinitis. The winning time in his race (20.30), even allowing for the rather slow track at the Stade de France, shows that an in-form Kenteris would have had no trouble adding yet another gold medal to the ones he earned at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the 2001 World Athletics Championships in Edmonton and the 2002 European Championships in Munich. Greece’s single gold medal came from javelin thrower Mirella Manjani who threw 66.52 meters, the best performance in the world this year, more than 3 meters past her closest rival. «We did our duty. I had set my goals on the gold from the beginning. I made the right preparations to be ready in Paris,» Manjani said yesterday. Kelesidou was unlucky in losing the gold medal in the discus, which she missed by a mere 18 centimeters. In the same event, reigning European champion Katerina Voggoli was third, confirming Greece’s pre-eminence in the event over the past few years. In fact, Greece has more than once fielded three finalists, among the 12 taking part, something unthinkable 10 years ago. The fourth medalist, Pericles Iakovakis, was rather a surprise, although he has long figured as a rising star in the 400-meter hurdles. He won the world junior title in 1998 and was fifth in last year’s Europeans. Only a month before the Worlds, he set a new Greek record of 48.51 seconds. Then, he says, his English manager, former javelin star Tessa Sanderson, informed him he had been invited to the Zurich Grand Prix. «I went there just for the training,» he said. There, he lowered his record to 48.25 seconds. In Paris, he set yet another Greek and personal best in the semifinal, in 48.17 seconds, practically walking the last few meters. Although he was slower in the final (48.24) he established himself as one of the pre-eminent hurdlers in the world. To that, one must add his incredible performance in the last leg of the 1,600-meter relay qualifier, where he lifted Greece to second place and a first-ever slot in the final. Greece was seventh in the final.

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