Diving, sailing, even swimming give plenty to cheer about

The messages of previous years were loud and clear. The standards of Greek swimming, water polo and diving were enjoying a continual rise – and the Athens Olympics came as solid proof. Without a doubt, the gold medal won by diving duo Thomas Bimis and Nikos Siranidis in the men’s synchronized diving 3-meter springboard event ranked as Greece’s major Olympic highlight in water sports. Water polo, which sports a far longer tradition in this country, managed to stir emotions in 2004, especially at the Olympics. The women’s team went all the way to the final, came close to winning, but was edged out in the encounter’s dying moments of extra time by a calmer and more experienced Italian side. Interestingly, this silver medal was Greece’s first ever in team competition at the Olympics. On the other side, the national men’s team is establishing itself as one of the mightiest in international water polo. It followed up fourth place at last year’s World Championships with the same ranking at the Athens Olympics. A medal was not out of the question. Russia, which won the bronze medal in Athens after defeating Greece in the playoff for third place, was not a superior side. Also in water polo, the women’s junior side took second place in Europe. In club-level competition, Glyfada lost in the European LEN competition’s final against Spanish side Barcelonetta. The most unanticipated medal for Greece at the Olympics was produced by Bimis and Siranidis, until then an unknown diving pair. Competing in the men’s synchronized diving 3-meter event, the pair did their job, which, combined with errors made by rival teams, raked in the gold medal. The result came as the sweetest of rewards for years of hard effort. The duo also won the bronze at the Europeans. Fellow diver Alexandros Manos won a gold medal at the European juniors from the 3-meter board. Greece’s gradual progress in swimming was confirmed at the Athens Olympics. Qualifying for two finals, Spyros Gianniotis captured fifth place in the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle and seventh place in the 400-meter event. He ended fourth in the 1,500-meter at the Europeans. Yiannis Kokkodis ended sixth in the 400-meter medley at the Olympics and fifth at the Europeans. Nery Nianguara ended sixth in the women’s 100-meter freestyle event at the Olympics. Competing in the same event at the Europeans, Nianguara won the bronze. Outside team events, it came as Greece’s first medal at the competition. Greece failed to win medals in synchronized swimming in the Olympics, but eighth place was captured by Greece’s team entry and ninth place earned by the duo of Christina Thalassinidou and partner Eleftheria Ftouli in the duet final both rank as respectable performances. In other water sport disciplines, Sophia Bekatorou and Emilia Tsoulfa, competing in the 470 (double-handed dinghy) category in sailing, won the gold at the Athens Olympics to further consolidate their extended domination of the sport at the World Championships. In the run-up to the Olympics, the pair had ranked as a hot favorite for gold. But a serious back injury that struck Bekatorou just months ahead of the event put the prospect in doubt even during the Olympics as it was unclear whether the recovered athlete would make it through the grueling event. The pair, which had ended a disappointing seventh place at the Sydney Olympics, were determined to hit top spot. Windsurfer Nikos Kaklamanakis, who rose to Olympic prominence with a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, was also determined to fight back in Athens after missing out on a medal in Sydney four years earlier. The aging athlete, who has announced his retirement from windsurfing, was rewarded with a silver medal in the Mistral Class in Athens.