Greece carries weight of economic crisis to London

25/07/2012

Significantly reduced funds for training and equipment had diminished medal hopes for Greece.

By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 25/07/12

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Greek athletes acknowledge the economic crisis has affected them, but say their spirits are high. [Reuters]

Greece's team at the London Games is its smallest in 20 years and one whose budget has been slashed by over two thirds, raising questions about how prepared its athletes will be on the world stage, and whether it can match the four medals Greek athletes won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"The crisis hit and the Greek state could not provide assistance. They told us we would get 30m euros to help the athletes prepare, but gave us 8m euros and then nothing," Spyros Capralos, president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, told SETimes.

The Greek Athletics Federation could not offer any help, and because of the crisis, had to cancel domestic activities as well, according to Vassilis Sevastis, president of the federation.

"The cuts in funding for the federation last year and this year are so extensive, they do not allow us to cover basic needs," Sevastis said.

It was not until private sponsors stepped in -- such as the Greek gaming operation OPAP, which is now up for sale to help pay Greece's debt -- that the athletes' needs were partially covered.

"They gave us oxygen so we could compete," Capralos said.

The Greek Olympic team includes 105 athletes -- 66 men and 39 women. Athletes complained about the poor conditions in which they trained and expenses they had to cover themselves.

"We did not even have warm swimming pools in the winter and could not compete in events abroad," Theodora Giareni, 22, a swimmer in the 4x100m relay and 200m freestyle, told SETimes.

"I have to ask family and friends to help me out," Kostas Filippidis, a pole vaulter, said.

Support from coaches has not been lacking, despite salary reductions of up to 30% and deteriorating equipment that has not been replaced.

The crisis even threatened to put out the Olympic torch relay, as officials said Greece could not even afford to hold the flame lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia. Private sponsors stepped in to keep the tradition alive.

Greek athletes will carry the additional burden of trying to help salvage Greece's reputation in London, which has been sullied by two years of images of constant protests, strikes and riots against austerity.

But swimmer Ioannis Kalagaris, 22, who competes in the 50m freestyle, said his attention will be on the competition, not what people think of Greece.

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"I do not want to show others that we cannot [be dynamic]," Kalagaris told SETimes.

Fencer Vassiliki Vougiouka, 24, admitted the difficult times have affected her. When competing abroad, she has faced sympathetic inquiries by other athletes about whether she has enough money.

"It is very stressful, but I want to give my best," Vougiouka said.

"We do not have anything to prove to anybody. The way we have fought through sports and struggles in our history shows what we can achieve," Alexandros Nikolaidis, silver medalist in the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing games, told SETimes.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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