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The Greek Olympic team is preparing to conquer London

24 July 2012 / 21:07:41  GRReporter
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Since last night, the Greek Olympic team has been in London, preparing for the start of the biggest sporting event. Some of the athletes will participate for the first time in the Olympics and they are more than excited to be on the way to fulfill their dream.

For others, it is yet another participation, bringing the hope that this time they will achieve better results, and medals are always the major aim and dream.

One of them is gymnast Vlassis Maras, who will once again try to reach the elusive gold he has been craving for a long time. He is 29 and admits that he owes his success to his parents' insistence. "Back then, gymnastics was a very popular sport. I continued doing it because I wasn't good at school, while at sports I was, and I had self-confidence." What is needed to get to the first place? According to Vlassis, the key is to surpass both the opponents and yourself.

For 22-year-old sprinter in the 200 meters Likourgos Tsakonas, the Olympic Games in London will be the first he is taking part in. His highest achievement to date is the gold medal from the European Athletics Championships in Ostrava last year. As a real Spartan, he says that he has no talisman and doesn't believe in chance. "I believe in the power of man. You have to be so well prepared, that any possibility of something going wrong is excluded." For Likourgos, participation in the Olympics is a childhood dream. "As a child, I used to dream about this day, but I could never imagine that my dream would come true."

His contemporary, Stefanos Paparounas, is a diver. A heel problem nearly cost him the qualification for participation in the London Olympic Games. "It was one of those moments when you say to yourself: now or never." Late last year he almost kissed goodbye to his favourite sport because of serious financial difficulties.

He has a talisman - it is his swimsuit and his heroes are his parents, who have moved twice - to Volos and to Athens - to provide Stefanos the best possible basis for training. "When I was a kid, I used to jump into the water without hesitation. As you grow, your fears also grow with you, and you have to overcome them every time", he says about the feeling on the trampoline.

22-year-old swimmer Yiannis Kalargaris never swims in the sea, "because in the 20 days off I have, I just do not want to swim". He started swimming when he accompanied a friend of his to the pool. "The good company we created there made me continue." Yiannis believes that intensive training has not deprived him of anything except sleeping until late morning. "Ever since a child, I have been waking up at 05:30. Going out until late at night is something I have never missed, because none of my friends used to do it." His greatest success so far is the achievement of the first national record in 2009. "Then, I had the feeling that nothing better could happen to me." When he learned that he had qualified for the Olympics in London, Yiannis felt like a child again, "when I used to watch the Games on TV and I used to dream of being there some day. I want these days to never end. "

26-year-old Ilias Iliadis is a Judo competitor and a "veteran" compared to the other members of the Greek Olympic team. The London Olympics will be the third consecutive games for him. In his set of medals, he has a golden one from the Olympic Games in Athens and from the World Tournament in 2010, as well as two more, from the European Tournaments in 2004 and 2011.

Ilias was born in Georgia, where "I would see kids going to the gym to train, and I wanted to try it myself. In the beginning I didn't like it, since it seemed to me a very rough sport, but my parents insisted that I continue, because I was a very romping kind." As strange as it may sound to many, he said that Judo has taught him to be self-educated, strong and disciplined. "During the match I just feel my opponent's movements and I do what I have to do. Five minutes later I forget about everything." Ilias talks about his first great success: "It was at the European Tournament in 2004. I got on the podium and I thought: Is that all? I was quite a bit younger then and couldn't understand. When I won the gold medal at the International Tournament in Tokyo, I realized what is the reason for all the sacrifices." Despite the contrary expectations, Ilias says that he is very superstitious. "Whenever I step on the mat, I have to put my slippers properly, so that they don’t tread on the line," he says.

Surfer Vironas Kokalanis has been keen on sports since he was 12. "My father practiced surfing as an amateur. Since I started lessons, I haven't come out of the sea." He still dreams of an Olympic medal, because he was just one point short to qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008. His main purpose, however, is to rank among the five best. "At the sea, you feel really free. Whatever thoughts might have occupied your mind before that, are immediately forgotten when you get on the surfboard", says Vironas, whose favourite land sport is cycling. "My mother, several friends and my girlfriend will accompany me to London. I will be with my personal fans."

Tags: Sports Olympics London Greek athletes gymnastics Judo Vlassis Maras Ilias Iliadis Stefanos Paparounas Likourgos Tsakonas Yiannis Kalargaris Vironas Kokalanis
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