Poor Olympics offer few distractions for Greece

Published: 04th August 2012 10:56 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th August 2012 10:56 AM   |  A+A-


For Greece, the Olympics have offered little relief from its long-running economic crisis. Instead, the crisis is casting a shadow over the Greek athletes at the Olympics.
Greece — the ancestral home of the games — only has one bronze so far in London, and some athletes are saying it's because of the budget cuts many federations have seen amid the government bailouts.
This year, the country doesn't even have the customary national house in London — where athletes and fans can gather to celebrate success — because it can't afford one. Instead, a group of investors stepped up to fund a private one — dubbed the "House of Hellenes" — although even that was forced to close on Friday because they could only afford a one-week lease.
So for the Greeks, it's hard to stay positive lately — even for Iliadi Iliadis, who won the country's only medal so far in judo.
"This bronze medal was not so nice because I can't say it is the same as Athens (in 2004). Everyone is having a difficult time in Greece so at least it's still good if people can watch TV and see us winning medals in Olympic Games," Iliadis, who won gold in 2004, told The Associated Press. "(But) this is a moment when Greece needs medals more than any other time."
Iliadis was speaking at House of Hellenes in central London, which paid tribute to him and Vassiliki Vougiouka, who finished fifth in the women's saber.
Families, friends and the "high priestess" of Ancient Olympia — or at least the actress who plays the part during lighting ceremonies for the Olympic flame — were among those on hand at the Carlton Club, which was turned into a makeshift Greece House. The Carlton Club is where former British prime ministers like Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill came to discuss and decide on issues of the day, and the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce said the Greek investors chose the club for its historic significance.
"It is a big achievement just for a Greek athlete to take part and be able to prepare for the Olympics," four-time Olympian Vasileios Polymeros, who won silver and bronze in rowing, told a crowd of about 75 people. "What these athletes have achieved is really heroic. If I was in their place I'm not sure I would be able to do it, to be so focused. The Olympics is so big, you have to be 150 percent focused, not 100 percent. And if you just turn on the TV in Greece and watch the news, watch what is happening, to be able to stay focused after that is amazing."
Vougiouka, who studies dentistry when not competing, said the past years had been very tough with the future being so uncertain.
"It's very hard because I'm alone with just my coach and we have no support, no doctors or teammates when I travel, we don't have anything. Our federation doesn't have the money to pay for much," said Vougiouka, who has been competing alone for two years now. "I worry very much for my coach because he is Romanian, so maybe he leaves. They don't pay him much."
Harris Ikonomopoulos, the president of the Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, said the group of private investors pooled together to pay for the weeklong stay at the Carlton Club because they felt "shame that because of the crisis in Greece we were going to be absent from the Olympics."
"This is a place where from 1842 many critical decisions concerning Europe have been taken, so it felt like the place for us to meet and to celebrate Olympic success but also talk about the future," said Ikonomopoulos, whose last act was to hold a conference to discuss Greece's future as an investment destination.
Olympic traffic restrictions also meant the Chamber of Commerce had to close one day early so it could move its few desks and big screen TVs out before its weeklong rental expired on Saturday.
"It's all very frugal," Ikonomopoulos said of the site where Greece's Olympic committee is also conducting business. "My duty is to try and help and work toward making Greece a place to invest again.
"We're trying to save ourselves."
Iliadis' bid to inspire and reward his countrymen will not stop at bronze, however. He plans on delivering his medal to the famed Mount Athos monastery in the northeast of the country, a site where he prayed at with London in mind in the buildup for the games.
"Everyone outside Greece says Greeks don't like to work, that they are lazy and just like to party. We like to work, we like to train, we work to improve Greece," he said. "We're like a family here because you know everyone and we're not all bad people."

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