SPORTS

Champion unperturbed

Anxiety amid the ranks of the national gymnastics team is running high over whether Demosthenes Tambakos, the current world champion on the rings and a silver medalist at the Sydney Olympics, will be given a wild-card entry for next summer’s Athens Olympics. But the athlete says he feels calm over the prospect. «Everybody is anxious over whether I’m going to take part in the Olympic Games, except for me,» Tambakos, who won his world title on the rings in Anaheim, California, last August, said yesterday. «I’m interested in competing, but if I don’t manage to it will not mean the end of the world. I have all the time ahead of me to prepare for the other competitions, even the [2008] Olympics in Beijing. But I’m optimistic that I will be present in Athens,» he added. The national men’s team’s unexpectedly poor performance at the World Championships in Anaheim has consequently limited Greece’s entry in the individual events to just one athlete. Greece, however, may be given a second wild-card entry, which would go to Tambakos, when the International Olympic Committee decides early in the new year, probably February. Despite traveling to the Anaheim event with a squad of world-class members with plenty of top-level success under their belts, the Greek squad ended in a disappointing 25th place. Prior to these Worlds, Greece had been billed as one of the contestants to look out for. Anaheim’s price The poor team showing in Anaheim also deprived Greece of a berth in Olympic team competition, which is reserved for the top 12 sides at the preceding World Championships. Besides Tambakos and Vlassis Maras, Greece’s squad also included Vassilis Tsokalidis, a gold medalist on the parallel bars at last year’s Europeans, and Ioannis Melissanidis, who, further back in time, won gold on the floor exercises at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Tambakos was the stand-out athlete for Greece in Anaheim. His gold medal in the rings was the squad’s only medal. However, 20-year-old teammate Vlassis Maras, already a two-time world champion on the high bar, has already qualified to represent Greece in the sole automatic berth for individual competition. Maras, who went to Anaheim as the twice defending world champion, returned empty-handed and provided one of the major shocks by failing to make the final. Tambakos has just completed training in Russia for upcoming competition. «I trained hard in Russia. It was exhausting but a loaded agenda of events awaits me in February and March and I’m going to have to respond to those obligations,» Tambakos said.