SPORTS

Greek table tennis aiming high

Greek table tennis standards have risen dramatically in more recent years, thanks to the talent of two players, Kalinikos Kreanga and Daniel Tsokas, both forces on the international circuit. The national team took part in Europe’s top-level competition for six consecutive years, with Kreanga raking in a fair share of medals. Knowing this, table tennis fans in Greece were expecting Olympic medals at the Athens Games last summer, but these never materialized. Moreover, a defeat to Belgium just days ago relegated Greece from Europe’s top league, the Premier Division. As things currently stand, the Greek squad appears in need of revamping following years of strong success. At the team’s helm is Nikos Kostopoulos, who led Greece’s ascent and now must find a way to pull Greece out of its current slump. «The coach is responsible for defeats, and if the national team’s course is deemed unsuccessful, then I accept responsibility,» Kostopoulos told Kathimerini. «Serious work is being conducted, but the standard reached depends on the players, and that changes all the time. You can condemn a coach for not working and not possessing knowledge. I couldn’t have had knowledge in the past and have lost it now,» he added, defending his position amid the team’s recent plight. Despite the Greek team’s lack of success in 2004, Kostopoulos said he felt the year was not a bad one. «We ranked in the top 20 at the World Championships with our reserves,» said Kostopoulos. Commenting on Kreanga’s failure to win a medal at the Athens Olympics, the Greek team’s coach contended that the burden of having to perform before an expectant home crowd likely overburdened the leading player. «Kalinikos was preparing for a medal at the Olympics and was in excellent condition. We didn’t succeed and that’s because of the weight of the Games,» said Kostopoulos. «I didn’t expect that a player with his experience would be affected by the home-ground factor,» he added. Contrary to many pundits here who believe that Greek table tennis lacks substance behind its impressive facade of a few good players, Kostopoulos noted that the national team has a future. «Players emerge from time to time looking for the chance to prove their true worth. These individuals are not professionals, such as Kalinikos and Daniel. I’m talking about university graduates. Nowhere in the world is the combined level of education and sports ability so high. Players ranked in the world’s top 100 are professionals. I’m both honored and fortunate to be working with these people,» said Kostopoulos. «The problem is not the national team but the clubs that must work to produce good players for the national team’s revitalization.» The team’s next objective, Kostopoulos said, is to return to Europe’s big league. «We’re going to try and get promoted via the European Championships in the spring,» said Kostopoulos. «Then we’re going to compete at the World Championships in Shanghai where Kalinikos will be looking to distinguish himself and other players will be pushing for good results.»