Grigoriadis strikes gold

Aris Grigoriadis won Greece’s first-ever gold medal at a world swimmers’ meet on Sunday, when he captured the 50-meter backstroke race on the last day of the 11th World Swimming Championships held in Montreal, Canada. The 19-year-old’s performance capped Greece’s best-ever performance at a World Championships, or any other big international meet, with the men’s water polo team gaining their first medal ever, a bronze, and Greek swimmers appearing in six finals. In the previous 10 World Championships, swimmers had recorded a total of three appearances in finals. By comparison, the women’s fifth place in water polo looked like a letdown after last year’s silver medal at the Athens Olympics. In a one-length race where a slow start is usually fatal, Grigoriadis overcame his own slow start to fend off Australia’s Matt Welsh and the UK’s Liam Tancock and win in 24.95 seconds. Welsh finished in 24.99 and Tancock in 25.02. «I can break the world record,» Grigoriadis said after the race. The record stands at 24.80 second and its holder, Thomas Rupprath of Germany, was the pre-race favorite. Instead, he faded to sixth place, clocking 25.38 second. American Aaron Piersol, who dominated the 100- and 200-meter backstroke races, as he did in the Athens Olympics, is, by his own admission, not a very strong sprinter. He finished fifth (25.30) behind compatriot Randall Bal (25.23). «Even when I finished, I wasn’t sure I was the winner. But I believed I would win,» Grigoriadis said. The youngster had already given his rivals a warning in Saturday’s semifinals, when he clocked the best time (25.11 seconds) earning a starting place in the fourth lane. «I felt better than (Saturday) and more sure of myself. There was no anxiety at all,» he said. «I had felt some pressure earlier, in March, when I clocked the best time in the world up to that point (25.09 seconds, his best until Sunday).» After taking some time for rest, Grigoriadis will next prepare for the 2006 European championships to be held in Bulgaria. Then, he will begin training for the 2008 Olympics. «Our goal for Beijing is medals in 100 meters freestyle and, of course, the 50 backstroke,» said Grigoriadis’s coach, Chryssafis Vangelakakis. Vangelakakis has coached Grigoriadis since 1993. «When I got this small child in my hands, I never thought he would make it to the very top. But he is blessed with an iron will to succeed I have seen in no other and which has only got stronger by the years,» he said. Yiannis Drymonakos also made it into a final on the last day of the Championships, in the 400-meter medley. Although he qualified fifth, he could not repeat the semifinal’s performance and ended in last place, almost ten seconds behind the winner, Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh.