As the final curtain fell on the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, a bow to the athletes of Greece for giving their nation, and millions of Greeks throughout the world, a few moments of pride and celebration.
It’s hard to believe that they could have performed so well— the Greek team’s 5th best performance in the modern Olympics— under the pressure of a nation in crisis and with little or no funding from government or athletic federations due to budget cuts.
The Greek team had less than 100 athletes— 92 to be exact— and managed to win 6 medals, ranking 26th in the total medals count out of more than 200 nations participating and beating out athletic power houses like Ukraine, Sweden and Turkey.
Blast to the past: At the first modern Olympiad in Athens in 1896, Greece won 50 medals. At the 2004 Athens Olympics the Greek National Team won 16 medals and 13 in Sydney in 2000, followed by 8 in Atlanta, rounding up the best performances for Team Greece in the modern Games.
Katerina Stefanidi (Gold in Pole Vault), Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (Bronze in Sailing), Spyros Gianniotis (Silver in Marathon Swimming), Eleftherios Petrounias (Gold in Men’s Rings) and Anna Korakaki (Bronze and Gold in Shooting).
Two stories from the Greek team stand out the most.
The stories are mind-boggling about Anna Korakaki’s journey to Rio de Janeiro. Her shooting range where she trained in Drama, in northern Greece, was demolished by the local municipality while she was in Rio winning a bronze and a gold medal for Greece.
She received little support from the government during training and told horror stories to the Greek media after she returned home, including the numerous times she was forced to buy her own blue shirts for international competitions and sew on the Greek flag— herself.
And the resilience, determination— and character— of Spyros Gianniotis, the marathon swimmer who was making his 5th Olympic appearance in Rio de janeiro only to see a Gold Medal snatched away after a technicality that the Greek coaches protested, asking the judges to consider awarding two Golds for the race.
But it was Gianniotis himself who refused to allow the official protest to go on, saying that races should be won in the water, and not decided by judges. A class act, indeed.
Who was left out:
Greece’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies, Sofia Bekatorou and her partner Michalis Pateniotis were hopefuls in sailing. The duo were forced to set up an Indiegogo campaign to fund their way to Rio but didn’t make it into the finals after stiff competition.
Vlassis Maras, another Greek medal hopeful made an early mistake in his horizontal bar qualification competition that shuttered him completely out of the finals round and finishing 38th overall. Maras, a two-time World Champion on horizontal bar and a five-time European Champion, was a favorite to win a medal.
One of Greece’s greatest hopes in the Rio 2016 Olympics judoka Ilias Iliadis met a shocking defeat 43 seconds into his first match against his Chinese contender. The Gold (Athens) and Bronze (London) medalist announced his retirement from competitive judo after his defeat in Rio.
And before we bow out of Rio 2016 coverage, a thank you to the athletes who made Greece and Greeks everywhere proud.