SPORTS

Young, focused, and at the very top

The unknown young gymnast Vlassis Maras had astounded, even amused, with his over-the-top, self-assertive public remarks after winning gold on the single bar at last month’s World Championships in Belgium. But a closer look at the 18-year-old athlete – the national team’s latest sensation following international triumphs by Demos Tambakos and Yiannis Melissanidis – reveals a disciplined, mature youngster who is focused on topping his field. Maras made a hesitant start in gymnastics after his parents introduced him to their favorite sport at the age of five. I went for a day and then stopped. A little later I decided to try again. Two years later I competed in the pommel horse event and felt out of place, Maras recalled, who, by his early teens, had developed an avid interest. I was 13. I’d worked a lot to reach a certain level and had to either continue or stop. That’s when I realized that I loved the sport, he added. Prior to last month’s triumph, Maras had shown hints of promise, with medals at the Balkan Games, European Junior Championships, and Mediterranean Games. Maras and his coach, Dimitris Raptis, had begun preparing for Ghent a year in advance. I wanted to qualify for the final, and from there on all was possible, Maras said. His world title also earned Maras another distinction, at home, as the year’s second-best athlete, according to a poll by sports journalists. Costas Kenteris, who confirmed his status as the world’s fastest in the 200 meters with a world title earlier this year after last year’s gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, topped the voting. I was pleased that the victory touched the people who write about sports. I thank them and will try to live up to their faith in me, Maras said. In 2002, I’ll be competing in all events at the Worlds and Europeans. My objective is to make it to the finals… From then on, all is possible.