The last medal hope

Greek track and field athletes peaked too soon this year. Some, like 21-year-old 100-meter sprinter Maria Karastamati, did so intentionally. But others, such as low hurdler Periklis Iakovakis and pole vaulters Costas Philippidis and Aphrodite Skafida, to mention just a few, had set their sights on Helsinki, the site of the 10th World Athletics Championships. All performed far below expectations. It is as if they were more interested in qualifying than in distinguishing themselves at the actual event. Greece’s remaining hopes for a medal rest now with three women javelin throwers. Mirella Manjani, world champion in 1999 and 2003, Angeliki Tsiolakoudi and Savva Lika will enter today’s qualifying event hoping to place among the 12 best who will contest in Sunday’s final. The good news is that their competitors have not achieved any big performances this year. The bad news is that two of the three athletes have also made mediocre appearances thus far. Tsiolakoudi is the exception. With a best throw of 63.14 meters, back in 2002, she has achieved a 62.72 throw and is fifth best among the 30 qualifier entrants. While this make her a favorite to achieve the qualifying distance of 60.50 meters or, barring that, place among the top 12, her throw will likely prove inadequate for a top position, once the big guns start competing seriously. Of course, the weather conditions may impede the athletes from throwing that far and level the playing field. However, as former Olympic 100-meter hurdles champion Voula Patoulidou remarked on Greek TV on Wednesday, Greek athletes have no such experience of adverse conditions, because they are too confined in domestic competitions. «It is time to change the whole model of Greek track and field: We can no longer compete mainly for the benefit of our compatriots. Our top athletes should focus on meetings abroad,» she said. Tsiolakoudi, 29, has been under Manjani’s shadow for too long. She had placed eighth at the 2003 World Championships in Paris. Manjani, also 29, has thrown just 59.22 meters this year, the 25th best throw among the entrants. She is still, however, the most likely medal potential. Her best throw is 67.51. Lika, 35, has thrown 62.89 meters last year and came ninth at the Olympics. This year, she has achieved 57.88, the third worst performance among the entrants.