Cold times for Greek athletes at Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY – Offering no change in the fortunes of the Greek team’s lackluster – as anticipated – performances at the Winter Olympics so far, Lefteris Fafalis, who took part in the 15-kilometer cross-country race yesterday, finished just ahead of the tail’s end. With a time of 46.17.9 minutes, Fafalis came in 65th among the 67 athletes who completed the course. A day earlier, the national team made a dismal debut in competition with two second-last placings by Despina Vavatsi and Stavros Christoforidis in the 15- and 20-kilometer biathlons, respectively. Fafalis, one of just a handful of Greek athletes sent to Salt Lake City, mainly for symbolic purposes, had no excuses. «Conditions were ideal, except for the high altitude here, but it was the same for all competitors. Even though I didn’t expect much, I did all that I could,» remarked the 27-year-old athlete. «On the 19th of the month, I believe that I’ll achieve my goal in the sprint event. This was just a test run,» added Fafalis, who, besides next week’s sprint, will also compete in today’s 10-kilometer pursuit. Though Greece – a country with no tradition in winter sports and no medals in major international competition – has sent a modestly sized squad to the Olympics with no realistic chances of success, the poor start has occasioned some distress in the squad’s ranks. Disappointed by the team’s latest result, the president of Greece’s Skiing Federation, Yiannis Pandelidis, said he had expected more encouraging performances. «I honestly expected them to do better. «The first few days have disappointed us, even though the athletes have claimed that these were not their strongest events and promised they’d do better in others,» Pandelidis remarked. The federation’s chief cited three critical factors that would need to be dealt with if Greece were to make any progress in the future. «There are three dimensions: technological support, which we don’t have; technique, which we also don’t have because we need to be on ice even during the summer; and physical fitness, which we don’t have either, because simply having trainers is not enough – we also need specialized medical teams,» said Pandelidis. «At seminars, we hear about what other national teams do with nutritional programs and can’t believe it,» he added. Pandelidis went on to say that state support was needed if winter sports were to be elevated from amateur to professional levels. Athletes and coaches, too, he added, would have to rid themselves of current amateurism.

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