We have lots of Greeks working with
us here, guiding us through the language, culture, and geography of this
intensely complex and truly wonderful place. We have bonded with Greece in
special ways, and therefore we cheer alongside these local friends as their
athletes compete. It has not, of course, been easy for Greek sports fans.
Their first blow came when two of their best medal hopes - Konstantinos Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, who won silver in the 100m
Kenteris was a Greek hero at the
Sydney Olympics in 2000, shocking most of us when he won gold in the 200m,
and Thanou won silver in the 100m. Their story began at these Games when
they failed to appear for a drug test the day before the Opening Ceremony,
and the drama escalated when the two were later hospitalized after what appeared
to be a motorcycle accident. It now seems that the accident was staged in
order to avoid the drug test, broadening speculation that either or both
athletes were dirty, something that they both deny.
And now Leonidas
Sampanis, whose bronze medal in weightlifting was Greece's first
at these Games, has been stripped of his medal after testing positive for
a banned substance.
Weightlifting means a lot in Greece.
We all circled around the monitors several days ago to cheer on Sampanis.
And we sympathized as seemingly an entire nation had its hopes crushed with
the soap opera-esque tale of Kenteris and Thanou. And then last night we
paused to watch Greek weightlifting legend Pyrros
Dimas, the man who carried the Greek flag in the Parade of Nations
during the Opening Ceremony, take bronze. He had won gold at the previous
three Games - Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney - so we felt we knew him well. And
he literally, as his Adidas ads proclaim, was attempting to lift an entire
nation, this time with a sprained wrist.
His bronze, obviously, is not gold,
but it provided our hosts with an Olympic moment to cherish. In the Research
Room, the 17 of us still awake cheered Dimas on. At Nikaia Weightlifting
Hall some 6,000 people packed the room, chanting "HELLAS" and waving flags
of Greece. He is their Michael Jordan, their Alex Rodriguez, their Mia Hamm.
And he felt it. He touched his heart, and the tears fell. Not tears over
a lost gold, but for a won bronze. It went on for what seemed like days,
preventing the granting of silver and gold to the other two athletes - deserving
but unnoticed - who waited to take their place beside him on the dais.
After the national anthem of Georgia
finally played for the gold medalist, the crowd paid its last respects to
the bronze medalist, singing the Greek anthem, "Hymn to Freedom," as if a
gold medal hung around his neck and the blue and white flag was being raised
Now that's getting the arms of a
nation around you. And Greece, as I have discovered, is quite a nation.
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