Region has ups, downs at Olympics

17/08/2012

Although some countries failed to meet medal expectations, Montenegro won its first medal as an independent country at the London Games.

By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times -- 17/08/12

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Croatia's water polo team celebrates with their gold medals on the last day of the London 2012 Olympic Games. [Reuters]

A total of 32 medals went to athletes from nine Southeast Europe countries during the 2012 London Olympics, with Croatia and Romania together accounting for nearly half of them.

Croatia won the most gold medals in the region, three, and six medals overall. It secured its final gold medal by defeating Italy in men's waterpolo just hours before the Olympics closed.

Romanian athletes won nine medals, including two gold -- Alin George Moldoveanu's in the men's 10-metre air rifle and gymnast Sandra Raluca Izbasa's in the women's vault.

Turkey won two gold medals and five overall. Asli Cakir Alptekin finished first in the women's 1500-metre run, while Servet Tazegul won men's taekwondo (68kg).

Serbia won four medals, including Milica Mandic's gold in taekwondo, while Cyprus and Montenegro won a silver medal each.

The Montenegrin women's handball team reached the gold medal final, but lost to Norway and took the silver. This was the first Olympic medal the Adriatic republic has won since its independence in 2006.

At the 2008 Beijing Games, athletes from seven regional countries brought home 34 medals.

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[SETimes illustration]

The lack of funding forced crisis-hit Greece to cut its expenses for this year's Olympics. It sent 105 athletes to London, down from its 156 participants in the Beijing Games, with some travelling to Britain without their coaches. While a better standing in the final medal count would have boosted the Greeks' ego, hurt by austerity measures and rising unemployment in the country, its athletes won two bronze medals, as did Moldova.

Bulgaria won two medals, its worst showing in the Olympics since 1956.

Five-time world champion wrestler Stanka Zlateva, was upset in the final of the 72kg freestyle event by Russia's Natalia Vorobieva and took home a silver medal. Boxer Tervel Pulev, another gold hopeful, was stunned by Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine in a 21-5 semifinal match in the men's heavyweight category. He shared the bronze medal with Teymur Mammadov of Azerbaijan.

"This was Bulgaria's worst performance in the past six decades. We were a complete failure in athletics," Nikolay Stoilov, a 76-year-old former volleyball coach, told SETimes. "I feel so disappointed."

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Macedonia did not win a medal, although sprinter Kiril Efremov set a personal best in the 400m. "If I have in mind the minimum training conditions that I had in the past three years, I would say that I am thrilled with this result," Efremov said after the race.

The poor results are not surprising, says former Macedonian Olympic swimmer Natasha Meshkovska, since the state fails to invest directly in athletes.

"Sport halls are being built, but the athletes need direct permanent individual assistance. For example, to achieve good results in my sport, swimming, we need to have at least 1-2 training swimming pools that will be active throughout the year, but also scholarships for swimmers starting at an early age," Meshkovska, now working as a professor and a swimming coach, told SETimes.

Southeast European Times Correspondent Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje contributed to this article.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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