SPORTS

Champ bows out after medal

Eleftheria Ftouli, a pivotal figure on the national synchronized swimming team, chose to retire while still a leading force, right after her medal-winning performance at the recent European Championship in Budapest. The 25-year-old Ftouli, who won the bronze in the duet event with team partner Evanthia Makriyianni, bowed out of the sport, a relatively nascent one here which she helped develop, following an 18-year career. «I’d spent many years in the pool. I got tired, both physically and mentally. This is a good time to stop. I’ve done it all. I won a medal at the Europeans, competed at the Olympics and World Championships. I feel fulfilled,» said Ftouli in an interview with Kathimerini. «I’ll definitely miss it all, especially early on. That goes without saying, but that’s the nature of competitive sport. It doesn’t last a lifetime. I’ll try to find other interests. But I’ll keep myself connected to the field. I’d like to get involved in training. But it’s too early to discuss the future. I want to rest first and then we’ll see,» she added. Did you expect such an end to your career? No. But early in the year we showed signs of promise. I was prepared from preceding competition and felt that we could win a medal. But I didn’t want to admit it because I’m a little bit pessimistic. How difficult was it for Greece to reach such levels, if we take into consideration that the sport has existed for about 16 to 18 years in our country? Very difficult. The fact that we succeeded can be attributed to the spirit of the athletes. Essentially, we don’t get help from anyone. The lesser-known sports don’t receive the same benefits and exposure as the others. How true is it when they say establishment plays a major role both at the top and on the sidelines of synchronized swimming? Unfortunately, something like a ghetto exists in synchronized swimming. No matter how good a national team is, if it doesn’t have a tradition then achievement requires time. Public relations and political games count for about 50 percent, and the efforts made by the athletes make up the other 50 percent. Athletes in synchronized swimming need to be very patient. Are the Russians really that far ahead of the rest? Yes. It’s the only thing that nobody can dispute. It’s not coincidental. They work differently. Also, considerable sums of money are provided by both the state and the national federation. I believe that Russia will remain at the top for many years to come. Could we reach the levels of Spain and someday win medals at the Olympics and Worlds? The Spanish team is backed by great infrastructure. A giant leap was made in 2000, from eighth place in the world to third or fourth. But the Spanish girls aren’t so far above us. On a technical level, the Greek girls are better. But they work more collectively. Now as to whether we can someday win a medal at the Olympics or Worlds, that may happen in years to come. I hope it happens in Beijing, in 2008. But it’s difficult to break the top four lineup of Russia, the USA, Canada and Japan. Spain’s the only other team that could intervene. Who are the people that helped you most in your career? My mother, possibly more than anybody else, mainly on a psychological level. Over the past six years, my boyfriend played a significant role. He, too, was a champion athlete. It’s what helped, because he had a better understanding. He knew my needs. Naturally, my coach at club level, Natalia Matsiouk, and all the other coaches I had at the national team helped greatly.