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Kontides makes history for Cyprus
THE ISLAND’S first ever Olympic winner Pavlos Kontides said yesterday words could not describe how he felt after making history for Cyprus by winning the silver medal in the men’s laser class final at Weymouth.
“I feel incredible, wonderful. I am so proud of all the Cypriot people and my family,” said Kontides, 22, who flung his arms in the air and whooped with delight when presented with his medal as a group of Cypriot spectators jumped up and down waving the flag.
“I never gave up, I believed in the medal and I want to thank my family and the team,” were his first words after the race, which was won by Australian Tom Slingsby..
“I have worked very hard and stopped my studies to be here today. Nothing could discourage me, not even all the injuries. I was confident that I could do it,” said Kontides who had suffered
a number of injuries including back problems and a broken hand after which he had to train with a cast.
Kontides, from Limassol, who is a graduate of the Grammar School, and was studying ship science at the University of Southampton, currently ranks 11th in the world but has held 6th and 8th positions in the past. In an effort to be fully prepared for the Olympics, he also took a break from his studies for the past two years.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC, his aunt Evi Kontidou said last night her nephew had made many sacrifices on the road to Olympic fame.
“I know about the sacrifices he’s made over the years... and was concerned only with training,” she said. “I have a photo of him when he was a child (sailing). He said to me now though ‘grandad you’re going put a new photo of me here’,’” his grandfather told reporters.
The Cyprus Olympic Committee said Kontides’ win marked a new start for Cypriot athleticism. “Pavlos Kontides’ success sends the message that all high performance athletes have the potential not only to set high goals but to achieve them,” it said.
Kontides former coach, Yiannakis Papazoglou described how proud he was.
“He’s like my son I feel moved,” said Papazoglou, who is also the coach at the Limassol Nautical Club.
“Every time I watch the news my eyes well up, said Papazoglou. He said what Kontides had achieved was no mean feat given that “laser is the hardest category and the most competitive.”
Papazoglou said he first met Kontides when he was six years old, and even then he felt he had an Olympics contender on his hands when he spotted the look of enthusiasm.
“I saw him when he was six years old when he came with his father (to the Limassol Nautical Club) with his older brother,” said Papazoglou. “I said he was very young but we might be able to make an Olympic winner out of him, added Papazoglou, laughing at the idea that his prediction came to pass.
Kontides’ father Dr Panayiotis Kontides was also a sailor when he was younger, but never competed outside Cyprus.
According to Papazoglou, the young Kontides started when he was about 8 years old on an Optimist – one of the most popular sailing dinghies in the world - which is a small, single-handed sailing dinghy used by children up to the age of 15.
“He was a big-built child so within a few years he’d moved up to the laser and it was a lot harder as he had to compete with teens up to the age of 18,” said Papazoglou.
But he said Kontides was always very dedicated.
Asked about reports suggesting Kontides had not been financially supported by the Cyprus Sports Federation (KOA), Papazoglou said that the organisation has supported him but did not do enough.
“Unfortunately most of the money goes to football…if it wasn’t for his parents who are both doctors we wouldn’t have Pavlos Kontides...,” said Papazoglou.
In a recent interview with an online magazine, Kontides had said that the bulk of his financial support came from his family. Papazoglou said that in the run up to the games Kontides’ father had rented him a house in Weymouth so he could train although the team was not allowed to train in the actual waters where they would be competing.
“The English did not let any of the athletes actually train in the waters that they would later race in, they trained in the vicinity,” said Papazoglou.
Over the past two years in preparation for the Olympics and the World Championships, Kontides was dividing his time between Croatia, Cyprus, Perth in Australia and Weymouth in England. He has also been working with Croatian coach Jozo Jakelic since 2008.
Kontides’ first win came in 2003, aged 13, at the Laser Youth National Championship.
However, by age 15 he ranked 541 in world rankings for laser. Three years later he ranked 96. By 2009 he ranked 8th and by June 2011 he ranked 6th.
His biggest distinctions to date: 1st place at the 2007 World Championship-Kingston, 1st place at the 2008 Youth World Championship-Aarhus and 5th place at 2011 World Senior Championship-Hayling Island.
He also took part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics coming in 13th place and as the youngest competitor.
The Cyprus sailing team will arrive back on the island on Thursday and will be welcomed at the Presidential Palace on Friday and then at Parliament.