SPORTS

Squad visits hall of dreams

Members of the Greek weightlifting team were pleasantly surprised yesterday by the raucous reception from personnel at the Nikaia Weightlifting Hall. The Greek squad has been using the hall, one of the first Olympic venues to be completed, for almost a year, but lately has been training at another location while the so-called «overlays» (wiring, decoration etc) were being completed. This was the team’s first visit to the completely refurbished Nikaia Hall. On hand to welcome the athletes were Secretary-General for Sports Giorgos Orfanos; Yiannis Sgouros, the Athens prefect and also president of Greece’s weightlifting federation and secretary general of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF); and Nikaia Mayor Spyros Benetatos. Due to limitations imposed by the IWF, each country can field no more than four men and four women at the Olympics. Greece’s squad is made up of Leonidas Sabanis, Victor Mitrou, Pyrros Dimas, Kakhi Kakiashvilli, Harikleia Kastritsi, Natassa Tsakiri, Christina Ioannidi and Viki Kassapi. Promising youngsters Giorgos Markoulas and Christos Kourtidis are training with the men’s squad, each of whose members, already into his 30s, will likely retire after the Olympics. Following a brief ceremony of official greetings, the team was given a tour of the venue and said they were impressed by its quality. No one was more impressed than Sgouros, who struggled for years to convince authorities that the weightlifting team needed an arena of its own in which to train. «An old dream becomes true… The venue and its employees are fully ready to stage the best Games,» Sgouros said. The athletes preferred not to discuss their prospects, probably considering it a bad omen should they make predictions. Neither did their coach, Christos Iakovou. «We do not want to fill them with anxiety,» said Sgouros, who added that the athletes faced extra pressure to excel in front of a home audience. Dimas and Kakiashvilli are aiming at an unprecedented fourth straight Olympic gold medal, but everyone in the squad is a legitimate medal contender.