Greece wins second gold

Ilias Iliadis prevailed over several more experienced opponents yesterday to win Greece’s first ever gold medal in judo and its second gold at this Olympics. Three months short of his 18th birthday, Iliadis is also Greece’s youngest ever Olympic champion. He is also the youngest medalist ever in men’s history. «When the objective is to fight, age does not matter,» Iliadis said matter-of-factly at a press conference shortly after he prevailed in the 81-kilogram category. «He is 17? I did not know that,» a visibly surprised Flavio Canto, the Brazilian judoka who shared one of the two bronze medals told reporters. Iliadis took all of two minutes and six seconds to defeat the second-youngest contestant in the 81-kilo category, 20-year-old Ukrainian Roman Gontyuk, in the final. He did so with an ippon, or over-the-shoulder drop, judo’s equivalent of a knockout. This, however, was not the briefest of the five matches he fought yesterday: In the semifinal, he dispatched Russia’s Dmitri Nossov in one minute and 50 seconds and in the quarterfinal, he defeated South Korea’s Yong-Woo Kwon in just 42 seconds, not using ippon but through building enough difference in points during that short period for the referee to halt the match as one-sided. His longest match was his first-round one, which lasted two minutes and 54 seconds. Iliadis, who was born in Georgia and emigrated to Greece as a child, attributed his victory to «my coaches Nikos Iliadis and Christos Kollias (who) helped me a lot.» Nikos Iliadis is Ilias’s father and the national team’s coach. His experience as a coach, acquired in the former Soviet Union, has helped create a very competitive Greek team. Still, Iliadis, like the synchronized diving champions Thomas Bimis and Nikos Siranidis, was far from being a household name. Unlike them, however, Iliadis had already served notice to his opponents by winning the European Championship in Bucharest last May. Runner-up Gontyuk, for one, did not take his defeat too badly, or so he said. «I am happy and satisfied. Congratulations to the Greek champion. My country is celebrating.» Nossov tried to excuse his defeat to Iliadis. «I fought injured in the semifinal against the Greek judoka. I wanted the gold medal, but Iliadis has improved a lot and he was too strong. Much stronger than the last time I beat him.» Iliadis, who is still growing up, recently changed categories, but did not seem to be fazed at all by the presence of such experienced athletes as Canto, Kwon and Sergei Aschwanden of Switzerland. Iliadis’s club is Philippos of Amyntaio, a city in western Macedonia. His official biography lists Russian as his first language and a single hobby, hunting. He is one of the many Greeks of the Eastern European diaspora and other naturalized athletes who have contributed so much to Greek sport, such as weightlifters Pyrros Dimas, Kakhi Kakiashvilli, Leonidas Sabanis, Leonidas Kokkas, Victor Mitrou, basketball player Lazaros Papadopoulos, wrestler Aftandil Xanthopoulos and several boxers. With Iliadis’s victory, Greece has now a tally of two gold medals and a bronze, putting it in ninth place in the medals table. China and the United States were leading late last night with 18 medals each, with China leading in gold medals (10 to the US’s six).

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