Looking past the 2004 Olympics

The success of Greek sports has acquired an international dimension in recent years with triumphs, impressively, being registered in a variety of sports. In 2001, Greek athletes, both men and women, captured medals at the World Championship in track and field events, weightlifting, gymnastics, sailing, wrestling, tae kwon do, and rowing, all of which are Olympic events. At junior levels, medals were won in water polo, as well as two non-Olympic events, chess and karate. The overall success indicates that Greece is on the right track ahead of the Athens Olympics in 2004. But with many athletes who will be at, or a little past, their peak during the Olympiad, some concern has already been expressed about the country’s sporting prospects beyond the Athens Olympics. One definite and persisting problem in the country’s sporting world is that of crowd violence, which cannot be countered by police measures alone. Unfortunately, those in a position to lead by example – sports journalists and club officials – provoke through controversial reports and remarks, which, in turn, breed fanaticism. Objective, responsible thought is rare in the sporting world, at least in this country. The feeble voices of the wise few are usually drowned out by the masses. As long as the guilty parties continue to operate in their detrimental ways, violence will remain. Sadly, the international proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes does not seem likely to have an end. World records and Olympic victories do not just rely on hard training, nutritious diets, a good life, and a watchful physician. State bonuses and lucrative contracts with sponsors are not offered to athletes unless major records and big victories have already been achieved. And nowadays, these accomplishments go hand-in-hand with narcotic substances. Furthermore, fans are no longer satisfied with competition alone, if the package does not include new records. It is a vicious cycle which Greek athletes, too, have not escaped. It is no wonder, then, that cases of drug charges for athletes here have risen sharply in recent years. Sports woes aside, Greece’s track team was, without a doubt, the star performer in 2001. Sprinter Costas Kenteris’s world title in the 200 meters, after a gold medal at last year’s Sydney Olympics, came as a major highlight. Javelin champion Mirella Maniani-Tzelili failed to earn a world title but did capture silver in Edmonton. Fellow-javelin thrower Costas Gatsioudis took bronze, as did 100-meter sprinter Katerina Thanou, and discus thrower Anastasia Kelesidou. Despite being without its stars as a result of injuries for most of the year, including triple-gold Olympic medalists Pyrros Dimas and Kakhi Kakiashvili, the national weightlifting team raked in more glory. The biggest highlight was offered by Natasha Tsakiri, who won a gold and two silver medals at the World Championships. Giorgos Tzelilis trailed closely behind with two silver medals and a bronze. Importantly for the national weightlifting team, which has long relied on an aging bunch of members, younger talent seems to be arriving. The junior team accumulated seven medals at the Junior World Championships and just as many at the equivalent European ones.

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