From track to TV and track again

Instead of receiving the loud acclaim of a packed Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night, Greece’s new track hero Fani Halkia could quite easily have been on the other side of the camera. The newly crowned Olympic 400-meter hurdles champion revealed yesterday that only two years ago she quit her stop-start career as a high jumper and turned to television. «I was suffering from back pains all the time and I couldn’t see a future, so I wanted to try something new,» said Halkia, who broke the Olympic record in the semifinals of her event. Halkia quit training altogether and spent a year studying at a journalism college in Athens before starting work on a current affairs show at one of Greece’s private television stations. Her colleagues were happy with her progress at her new job but some of them were still of the opinion that she should be breaking records not stories. «It was clear that Fani should be an athlete,» said her program editor Sokratis Giolias. «I said to her, ‘Go back and be an athlete, if it doesn’t work out come back and you’ll always have a job waiting for you.’» It was her meeting with former Greek national 400 champion-turned-coach, Giorgos Panayiotopoulos, that pushed her back into athletics. «He believed in me and that gave me the strength to give it another try,» said Halkia. Panayiotopoulos said that the first time she hit the hurdles in training it was obvious that it was her event. After storming to a home win in front of the adoring crowd on Wednesday, Halkia ran to her coach and knelt before him in thanks. «I wanted everyone to know that this was down to him and the least I could do was kneel to acknowledge that,» she said. Panayiotopoulos insisted that he had known from the start that he had found a special athlete. «People like Fani make this easy,» he said. «She had the elasticity and the technique. All that was missing was speed – we made her quick.» (Reuters)

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