Greece looking for a better show at Beijing

July 22nd, 2008 - 1:05 pm ICT by IANS  

By Gong Bing
Beijing, July 22 (Xinhua) Greece, host nation of the 2004 summer Olympics, finished 15th on its home soil thanks to a performance of mythic proportions. Will such a dream story continue in Beijing? At least Greece hopes so. In the past several Olympics, Greece showed its strength in the events including weightlifting, athletics, sailing and gymnastics. In 1996, Greece won four gold and four silver medals, five of which came from the weightlifting. In 2000, Greece snatched four golds, six silvers and three bronzes. Five medals came from weightlifting and four from the athletics.

As host in the 2004 Games, the 441-strong Greek Olympic delegation took six gold, six silver and four bronze medals. Thomas Bimis and Nikolaos Siranidis won an unexpected diving gold in men’s 3 metre synchronised springboard, due to leading Chinese pair Peng Bo and Wang Kenan’s zero-point last attempt. That was the first gold for Greece in 2004.

This year Greece will compete in 24 sports, including athletics, gymnastics, swimming, sailing, rowing, taekwondo, cycling and judo with a 160-member delegation. Among the sports, Greece will contend for medals or even gold medals mainly in athletics, gymnastics, judo and sailing.

In the Greek national athletics tournament held this June, Chrysopigi Devetzi achieved a result of 14.92 metres in the women’s triple jump, the world’s best in 2008. Devetzi has kept a stable form in the past four years and is a gold prospect at the Beijing Games. Moreover, Luis Tsatoumas found his form back in men’s long jump with a 2008 world’s third best result of 8.32 metres.

The Greek men’s basketball team won the 2006 world championship silver medal, crushing the US dream team in the semi-final.

After overwhelming Puerto Rico 88-63 in the semi-final of the 2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournament held in Athens, Greece in July, Greece has become one of the three teams to book a berth for the Beijing Olympics from the qualifying tournament.

Besides basketball, the Greek men’s football team is also a prospect. However, as 2004 European champions, Greece failed to live up to the expectations in the UEFA Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria. In the tournament finals, they lost all three group games and scored only one goal, thus becoming the first defending champion not to earn a single point in the next European Championship.

An impetus for Greek Athletes might be a high prize of 200,000 euros for a gold medallist, 130,000 euros for a silver winner and 70,000 euros for a bronze medallist. Apart from cash incentives, Greek medallists will also be offered a job as civil servants after the Beijing Games.

However, bad news is haunting Greece as well.

Weightlifting should have been Greece’s strong point; however, a great blow was dealt in June when 11 Greek weightlifters were suspended for two years after testing positive for a banned steroid. Then Greece has to send a team of four weightlifters - three men and a woman - to the Beijing Olympics.

Moreover, doping-tainted sprinter Katerina Thanou has appeared in Greece’s roster for the Beijing Olympics after the 33-year-old ran 11.39 seconds at a Greek track meet, meeting the women’s 100-metre Olympic qualifying time. The inclusion has drawn widespread criticism. However, the list is not a final version and Thanou is not guaranteed a berth in Beijing.

For missing a doping test before the 2004 Athens Games, Thanou served a two-year ban. She and fellow Greek sprinter Costas Kenteris both missed a drugs test and allegedly crashed on their motorcycle hours before the 2004 Games opening ceremony. They were both forced to withdraw from the Games. Later they admitted their violations and served a two-year ban, which ended in December 2006.

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