SPORTS

Judo emerges as Greece’s main power sport, with many talented practitioners

Weightlifting and wrestling have been the country’s dominant power sports for years. But, more recently, judo has risen as a prime player, the most recent feat provided by Ilias Iliadis, the Athens Olympics gold medalist, who won gold again, this time at last November’s Europeans. The 23-year-old, a nationalized Greek from the former Soviet Union, is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind him stand a promising number of athletes capable of distinction at major international events. The majority are young with two or three Olympiads ahead of them. Greek interest in judo has skyrocketed in more recent times. A study conducted by Christos Kollias, a consultant for the sport’s Greek federation, showed that judo activity rose by 7,000 percent between 2001 and today. The establishment of the local Philippos Amyntaios judo school marked the beginning of this phenomenal rise in interest. Twelve athletes who entered the world of judo at the institution are now members of the national team. Today, over 120 judo clubs operate, with some 5,000 members aboard. This local ascent is also reflected in the national team’s international rise. At the 1996 Olympics, Greece’s leading performer in judo, Haralambos Papaioannou, captured seventh placed. In Athens, eight years later, Greece won gold with Ilias Iliadis and earned two more top-10 placings. The trend has been similar in junior-level competition. At last year’s worlds, Tariel Zintiridis won gold in his category, while Alexandros Gordeev and Thodoris Masmanidis captured bronze. There was also a seventh placing from Vaza Zintiridis, all of which indicates a promising pool of emerging talent behind Olympic champion Iliadis. The juniors also displayed promise at last year’s Europeans. The national team’s coach, Nikos Iliadis, stressed the need for improved financial support at junior levels.