Meet the Greeks

The country that gave birth to the Olympics hopes to add a few more medals to its 111-strong collection in Rio de Janeiro. Here are some of the athletes who can make it happen.


ELEFTHERIOS (LEFTERIS) PETROUNIAS

Artistic Gymnastics
Age: 25

Reigning World and European champion on the still rings, Petrounias was the first torchbearer for the Olympic relay after the flame was kindled at Olympia on 21 April 2016. πn Rio he will battle Brazilian idol Arthur Zanetti for the gold – a keenly awaited highlight of the Games, even though Petrounias stresses that their rivalry is friendly. Having won three major gold medals on the rings last year, he enjoys celebrity status in Greece, which he hopes he can put to good use: “It’s an honor if I can motivate people and especially kids to engage in sport.”

KALLIOPI (KELLY) ARAOUZOU

10k Open-Water Swimming
Age: 25

After a heart-breaking failed attempt to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, Kelly, who devoted herself to open-sea swimming in 2009 and has since won numerous European medals in the youth categories, trained hard and finally made the grade. Her silver medal in the 2015 5k open-water race at the World Aquatics Championship in Kazan, Russia, along with 8th place in the 10k race, clinched her ticket for the Rio Olympics, where, at the age of 25, she feels ready to compete for a medal in the waters off the famous Copacabana beach. Previously an adventure sport, the 10k race in open water entered the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as part of the swimming program, but in Rio it will be a discipline in its own right, with both men’s and women’s competitions.

SPYRIDON (SPYROS) GIANNIOTIS

10k Open-Water Swimming
Age: 36

Having spent more than 30 years both in swimming pools and the open sea, with a medal haul that includes two golds in the 10k race at world championships in 2011 and 2013, Liverpool-born Gianniotis is considered a legend and an inspiration for his Greek fellow athletes. This will be his fifth and final Olympic appearance, and his last chance for an elusive Olympic medal, which he missed by just five seconds in London. At his last race in the Panhellenic Indoor Swimming Championship, he received a five-minute standing ovation.

KONSTADINOS (KOSTAS) FILIPPIDIS

Pole Vault
Age: 29

Not many athletes are able to find the will and strength to make a successful comeback after a potentially career-breaking penalty for doping. Filippidis, however, not only managed to clear his name, but has been flying high ever since, striking gold at the 2014 World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, and achieving personal bests of 5.91m (outdoor) and 5.84m (indoor) in 2015 and 2016 competitions respectively. This year, he aims to improve on his seventh place at the London Olympics, although he insists on keeping his hopes high and head low, due to the strong competition expected from fellow athletes. In any case, failure will not be the end of the world for him; he already holds a master’s degree in service management from the Athens University of Economics and Business, and is aiming for a PhD right after the Games.

BYRON KOKKALANIS

RS:X Windsurfing
Age: 30

A hard-working, low-profile athlete with Greek and Filipino roots, Athenian Byron Kokkalanis started windsurfing at the age of 13, won his first major event at 16 (silver medal at the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF Championship in France) and has been collecting World and European medals ever since, including gold at the 2013 European Championship in Brest, France. Having spent weeks training at Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro ahead of his second Olympic attempt, he is aiming higher than the sixth place he took at the 2012 London Games. “Self-confidence is all about hard preparation,” he says. “And now I am familiar with the bay’s winds and waves. This time I’ll hit the water with more experience and a clear head.”

EKATERINI (KATERINA) STEFANIDI

Pole Vault
Age: 26

Her gold medal at the 2016 European Championships in Amsterdam was not only a career-high for the Athens-born pole vaulter – who has been breaking world records in youth categories since the age of 11 – but also a much-needed cause for celebration in Greece. She is now ready for her second Olympic attempt, with her American husband-coach Mitchell Krier by her side. Katerina, who holds a postgraduate degree in neuropsychology, travels to Rio de Janeiro with the aim of breaking the 5m barrier and returning with a medal.

ANNA KORAKAKI

25m Pistol, 10m Air Pistol
Age: 20

The second youngest of the 25 female athletes who will be competing in pistol shooting at the Rio Olympics has already made a name for herself, having won a number of medals in European and World Championships, including gold and silver in the 10m air pistol and 25m pistol events, respectively, at this year’s Junior World Championship in Suhl, Germany. The daughter of a sharpshooting Greek champion, Tasos Korakakis, who invited her to join him for a day at the range when she was 12, Anna proved to be a natural talent. But as she herself points out, in her sport – where all Olympic competitors are more or less equal – it’s all about having the right mindset, nerves of steel, but also a good deal of luck.

MEN’S NATIONAL WATER POLO TEAM

Average age: 26.8

With a permanent presence at the Olympic Games since 1980 and narrowly missing out on a bronze medal at Athens 2004, the Men’s National Water Polo Team is among the 10 best in the world, according to FINA rankings. For Rio, coach Theodoros Vlachos has chosen the same athletes who brought the latest major successes, namely bronze medals at the 2015 World Championship and the 2016 FINA World League in Huizhou, China. The team’s most experienced members are its captain, 32-year-old driver Christos Afroudakis, and 31-year-old wing Emmanouil Mylonakis, for whom this will be the fourth and third Olympic Games respectively. Eight team members are Olympic rookies. Despite the fact that Greece will have to face two water polo superpowers in the group stage, Serbia and Hungary, a medal is not out of reach.

SOFIA ASOUMANAKI – AIKATERINI NIKOLAIDOU

Double Sculls Rowing
Ages: 19, 23

Although this dynamic duo of rowing came together only a year and a half ago, they proved a great match. A rower’s daughter and former swimmer, born in Katerini, northern Greece, Nikolaidou is the more experienced of the two, having already won two European Championship gold medals in lightweight single sculls. Asoumanaki, who only started rowing at the age of 17 on the advice of two veteran rowers with whom she played beach volleyball while on holiday, is a rising star of astonishing talent and physical strength, who last year stunned the rowing world when she smashed the indoor world record by 13 seconds in the 17-18 age category.

PANAGIOTIS MANTIS – PAVLOS KAGIALIS

Sailing 470
Ages: 35 & 32

Currently fourth in the ISAF World Rankings, Athens-born Mantis and Thessaloniki-born Kagialis both started sailing at a very young age. Before joining forces in 2008, they already had numerous individual medals under their belts. Since then, they are the first national team crew to have participated in every important competition all over the world, and are considered the best Greek sailing duo in the men’s 470 class. Their third place at the 2014 ISAF Sailing World Championship in Santander, Spain, secured their ticket to Rio de Janeiro, which will be their second Olympic Games. And this year their performance has been equally impressive, finishing second at the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Miami. Hard-working and committed, they will be aiming for a medal with a brand-new boat, Iphigeneia.

YIANNIS MITAKIS

Sailing, Finn Class
Age: 27

The son of a sailing champion, Piraeus-born Yiannis Mitakis took up his sport at the age of five and started competing four years later. Over the years he has sailed in various classes (420, Dragon, Farr 40, J/24, Laser Radial, Lightning, Laser) and in 2012 he took the European Finn title in style, after a week of tough, tricky racing in unusually light and shifting winds in the Gulf of Follonica, Italy. At his first Olympic appearance in London the same year, he ranked 14th, but this time he has set his sights on a medal, encouraged by his 6th place at this year’s Gaeta Finn Gold Cup 2016. “In our sport it may all come down to a single race,” he says. “I’ve been working hard for years and I’ll give everything I have to succeed.”

NIKOLETA KYRIAKOPOULOU

Pole Vault
Age: 30

The Athens-born jumper started as a gymnast and moved to track and field, specifically the pole vault, at the age of 16. At London 2012 she managed only 19th place, but this time she has more experience. She also has the added boost from her triumphant 2015 season, during which she won the bronze at the World Championships in Beijing, set five Greek records, raising the bar to 4.83 meters, and became the first Greek athlete to win the IAAF Diamond League. At the time of print, Kyriakopoulou had suffered an injury and her participation in Rio could not be confirmed.

VLASSIOS MARAS

Artistic Gymnastics
Age: 33

Athens-born Maras took up gymnastics in 1988 at the age of 5 and 13 years later he became Greece’s first World Champion. Arguably one of the greatest horizontal bar athletes of all time, with three World and five European Championships under his belt, the diminutive (1.60m, 52kg) gymnast this year aims to break the spell that has denied him Olympic success in his three previous attempts in 2004, 2008 and 2012. “I plan to perform a high-difficulty program, qualify for the final and take it from there,” he says. “I know the venue, I have the experience, I plan to go there and get the job done.” 


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