SPORTS

The Olympics and Greece’s Euro triumph stole the year’s show

A fortuneteller was not necessary to predict that 2004 was going to be a significant year for Greek sports. Athens had been named host city for the 2004 Olympics seven years earlier. This alone was enough to attract extraordinary international attention stretching way beyond the global sports community. However, foreseeing that Greece would defy the wave of foreign criticism to stage one of the best Olympiads, if not best ever, as locals like to claim, was a far trickier affair. In another surprise, totally unanticipated, who would have expected that Greece’s national soccer team, which had never before registered a single victory in a major tournament, to return victorious from the European Championships in Portugal? And still on the year’s shockers, did anyone sense the sudden demise of the country’s most celebrated track-and-field athletes, the sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou? In one of the most highly publicized stories of 2004, Kenteris, who won gold in the men’s 200 meters at the Sydney Olympics four years earlier, as well as World and European titles soon after, and Thanou, a silver medalist in Sydney, missed a drug test on the eve of the Olympics, then stunned both locals and the world by withdrawing from the event and have since been entangled in a legal battle for allegedly faking a motorcycle accident and ensuing multi-day hospitalization as a cover-up. The 16 medals eventually raked in by the host nation’s Olympic team in Athens sent out a strong message highlighting that the 20-medal prediction by team officials prior to the Games was not much of an exaggeration. As is always the case, unexpected medals were added to the tally, one of the most impressive triumphs coming from Thomas Bimis and Nikos Siranidis, unknowns who won gold in the men’s synchronized diving 3-meter springboard event. On the contrary, other medals that were widely expected, such as that of world champion gymnast Vlassis Maras, never came through. The track-and-field department was the biggest medal supplier for the Greek team. There were five in all. Walker Athanassia Tsoumeleka won the women’s 20-kilometer walk in sensational fashion to become the event’s youngest-ever gold medalist in Olympic history. Another major surprise, Fani Halkia, broke personal records all the way to the women’s 400-meter hurdles final, and, once there, let none of her opponents get the better of her. Proving that hard work can yield results for athletes, Pygi Devetzi won silver in the women’s triple jump. Tassoula Kelesidou, who has raked in one silver after another in top-class women’s discus competition, continued the trend in Athens. Still missing from her collection are Olympic and World Championship gold medals. Despite struggling with various injuries in 2004, javelin thrower Mirella Manjani, a world champion in 2003, managed to win bronze in Athens. Among the Greek Olympic team’s male track-and-field representatives, Christos Meletoglou was the highest-ranking performer with sixth place in the triple jump. Other commendable efforts by members of Greece’s Olympic team included Katerina Voggolis’s eighth place in the women’s discus and triple-jump athlete Olga Vasdeki’s third consecutive appearance in the women’s Olympic final. Beyond the Olympics, sprinter Giorgos Theodoridis won a bronze medal in the 60 meters at the World Indoor Championships.