Greek gymnastics emerges from years of obscurity

Not so long ago, any thought of a high medal tally for the men’s national gymnastics team in major international competition could have been dismissed as ludicrous. But the thought became reality over the weekend at the Men’s European Gymnastics Championships in Patras, western Greece, where three medals – two gold and a silver – handed the team second place. More importantly, the team’s solidifying substance seems to be shaping into long-term promise. Ioannis Melissanidis first broke with Greece’s weak gymnastics tradition with a gold medal on the floor exercises at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. He failed to repeat the brilliance in Sydney four years later, but newcomer Demosthenes Tambakos won silver on the rings. The 18-year-old Vlassis Maras emerged from nowhere last summer to win gold on the high bar at the World Championships in Ghent, Belgium. Definitely impressive, these examples have come as flashes of individual brilliance at different times, but judging by the team’s overall performance in Patras, the gymnasts’ collective talent may well be swelling. Consolidating last year’s world title, Maras won gold again. Vassilis Tsokalidis, who had shown hints of promise by ending seventh on the parallel bars in Ghent, leaped to gold in Patras. The team’s other medal winner, Tambakos, a consistent performer in international competitions, won silver on the rings. «Talent is available all over the country. We have the infrastructure. Money is being provided by the State and the National Olympic Committee,» said Dimitris Dimitropoulos, the national gymnastics federation’s president. «Quite simply, we worked as we had to. We hired good coaches and paid them well. Our athletes are also being rewarded sufficiently, and we’re all working hard.» Next year’s world championships in the USA will provide Greece with its next main challenge where a top-12 placing would qualify Greece for the team events at the Athens 2004 Olympics. In Patras, the men’s team ended 10th.

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