SPORTS

Optimism for pool medals

The European Swimming Championships, which begin in Budapest tomorrow, rank as a major event world and European sporting agenda, but the interest in the event, which features three Olympic sports – swimming, diving, and synchronized swimming – has been wan. Greece is sending its biggest and strongest team to the event, which runs through August 6. A total of 22 athletes will be representing the country in Budapest. Distinction for Greek athletes is possible in all three sub-categories, while medals are not out of the question in swimming and synchronized swimming. First to plunge into the pool will be the national synchronized swimming team, with competition starting tomorrow and ending Sunday. Although the sport’s emergence was delayed here, synchronized swimming has since enjoyed rapid development and has earned Greece medals. The exceptionally talented Christina Thalassinidou, hailing from the former Soviet Union, was an instrumental figure. Our girls don’t go by unnoticed in international competition. They can and do qualify for finals at the Olympics, Worlds and Europeans. There is a feeling of optimism that Greece can win a medal in the duet competition. «We’ve trained a lot. Results in [preceding] competition have been positive. I hope we manage to improve a little. If that does happen, then we’re very close to the medals,» said Eleftheria Ftouli, who has paired up with Natalia Anthopoulou for the duet competition. Coach Gabor Snaouder reiterated these feelings. «The team has worked under the best possible conditions. We’re extremely close to medal-winning standards in all three [synchronized swimming] events, with the biggest hope being in the duet competition. We really want this medal. I hope our efforts are rewarded,» he said. As always, swimming events will draw the greatest attention. Greece’s presence here has risen gradually over the years, or since 1981, when Sofia Dara became the first Greek swimmer to ever qualify for a final. Competing in the 800-meter freestyle, Dara ended last. Four years later, a second Greek, Chris Stevenson, made it to the final, in the 200-meter butterfly. He, too, ended last. In 1987, Elli Roussaki ended fourth in the 2,000-meter butterfly, and Haralambos Papanikolaou finished last in the 400-meter medley. Up until 2000, a total of nine Greeks had reached finals. A further six were added in 2002, while, two years ago, the Greek team produced 13 finalists. Greece won its first ever medal in 2002 – bronze – in the 4×200-meter freestyle. Nery Nianguara earned Greece’s second medal, also bronze, two years later in the 100-meter freestyle. Besides the incentive of medals at these European competitions, such events also offer competitors berths for the ensuing Worlds, with sixth place or better. «Our team is very well prepared. I believe we will have many finalists and some medals,» noted Christodoulos Homas, the squad’s technical assistant.