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Greek weightlifters show promise before Beijing March 17, 2008

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Greece wins 11 medals at the EU Championships, synchronized swimming ensemble misses out on medal at Europeans

Displaying promise ahead of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, the Greek National Weightlifting Team won 11 medals at the European Union Championships in Forst, Germany.

The Greek men’s team finished third in the competition’s overall rankings and the women’s team ended fifth. Germany won the men’s event and Poland triumphed in the women’s competition.

The Greek National Team’s performance was particularly encouraging given the entry of Bulgaria and Romania, both traditional powers in weightlifting, to this latest edition of the EU Championships. Among the Greek team’s top performers was the 23-year-old athlete Natalia Tsoulia, who won three gold medals in the women’s 75-kilogram division. She lifted 95 kilograms in the snatch, and 110 kilograms in the clean and jerk.

“I wanted to lift more kilograms, but it doesn’t matter, I’ll accomplish this at the European Championships next month” said a beaming Tsoulia following her success in Germany, who had stopped competing for two years but made a comeback last year at the National Championships.

Other medal winners for the Greek team included Christos Saltsidis, who ended up with two silvers and a bronze in the men’s 94 kilogram division.

In other Olympic sports, the Greek Synchronized Swimming Team narrowly missed out on a medal at the European Championships. The Greek team ended fourth after a mistake at the beginning of its routine cost it a medal.

“We made a major mistake at the beginning. You can’t win medals when you make mistakes such as these. The judges were right, and if we were better, we would have won the bronze medal” noted the team’s coaches Anastassia Gustcheva and Albena Mladenova. “The girls lack experience. They have a lot to learn. They will mature and bigger successes will come their way.”

Spain won the gold medal, Italy won the silver and Ukraine the bronze.


The Greek international kickboxing king of the ring March 9, 2008

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Michalis ‘Iron Mike’ Zambidis, the Greek athlete who is a household name in Japan and has a string of titles to his credit > Kickboxer Michalis Zambidis, aka Iron Mike, made his name abroad before he became well known in Greece.

09-03-08_iron_mike1.jpg  The latest superstar of Greek sport is not from the familiar fields of soccer, basketball or track and field, but from kickboxing. Though he only recently hit the limelight in his native land, Michalis Zambidis, aka Iron Mike, is the only Greek athlete who can fill the Peace and Friendship Stadium or the Olympic Stadium (OAKA) for a sport that is not played with a ball.

In Japan, where kickboxing has become enormously popular, Iron Mike dolls, key rings and a PlayStation game are on sale.

Zambidis had already won fame abroad when Greeks got to know him after his series of victories over Turkish athletes. In late 2007, more than 10,000 people from all walks of life bought tickets costing up to 90 euros to watch him fight for nine minutes at the Olympic Stadium (OAKA).

His first sport was gymnastics, followed by karate, boxing and kickboxing. He started competing in professional tournaments at the age of 18.

The competition at OAKA was his 150th, 83 of which he has won by a knockout. There are two contests that he believes to be the most important of his career: «In my first match in Australia, I won the world title from a Turk, in front of hundreds of spectators. If I had lost, I would have been beaten by the best. The standing of the one who loses lends glory to the victor. The other was the first time I competed in Japan. They are the experts. My manager and I approached the top athlete, the Dutch K-1 champion, Albert Krauss. Since it is difficult to get into competitions at that level, we said we’d win by a knockout, and that I didn’t want to be paid if I didn’t succeed. The Japanese liked that. I won by a knockout in the second round.»

Fierce in the ring, Zambidis is quiet and reserved in everyday life. How does he do it? «There’s no room for emotion in the professional sphere. People who know me from the ring are scared to speak to me, while those who know me from elsewhere can’t believe I do a sport like that. I’m tough in the ring but that makes me easygoing in my everyday life.»

No matter how many times the telephone cuts into our conversion, Zambidis always remembers the last word he said before the interruption. He is like the computers he advertises. «I only relax with people who consciously and unconsciously relax me. I go to the cinema a lot. I liked ‘300.’ When I was a kid I had a video cassette of the old film which I used to watch. When the hero died, I was too upset to talk to anyone for hours afterward. I was impressed by his self-sacrifice.»

During the match at OAKA he seemed like an enraged rooster when the Spanish fighter hit him. «I’ve had some hard times in the ring. There have been times when I was ready to drop, the challenge is not to let your opponent know and to get back into the fight.»

Zambidis inspires his fans and draws inspiration from them. «I’ve fought three times in Greece since I became known here. What I want to do is give a flash of inspiration to the spectators.»

His sport may be a tough one, but it is popular with women. «In Australia the spectators are 50-50 men and women, in Japan 60-40. And in Greece there are a lot of women among the spectators.»

His mother worries when he competes. «She gets very anxious. She’s afraid I’ll get hurt but she tries not to show it.» Meanwhile, his father has become knowledgeable about the sport. «First he asks me if I’ve got a DVD of the match and then he asks if I won.»

Zambidis carries a watch and a set of scales everywhere, because he has to eat certain amounts at certain times. «The wrong food or lack of water can do me a lot of harm. It’s rare that I can eat a souffle, but when I do I enjoy every single ingredient.»

He does four double training sessions a week, and he chooses which competitions to take part in. After all, as he says with a broad smile, he is a professional amateur. «You have to enjoy your matches. You need to have inspiration, be good and be keen to distinguish yourself. I now have the luxury of being able to decide when I’ll compete. So I do six matches a year, three in Japan, two in Greece, and one in Australia.»

On only one occasion has he encountered prejudice: «I was competing in Australia with the Turkish kickboxer Gurkan Ozcan in a stadium with 12,000 Greek and Turkish spectators. My opponent had attacked me at the press conference and spoken derisively about Greece. The atmosphere was very tense. The match lasted 12 rounds and I won by a knockout.»

It was a hard road from obscurity to the packed OAKA stadium. «In Australia everyone knew me but very few did in Greece. In Japan they call me by my first name, but when I came home I came down to earth. Japanese kids who don’t know a word of English call me Michael. The best eight fighters there compete once a year. I have three world titles and I’ll compete again in April. But those titles don’t mean much there. The K-1 tournaments in Japan are like the Olympic Games of kickboxing.»

He won’t disclose how much he earns, saying: «I don’t make as much as a soccer player or a professional boxer. For instance, the purse for a heavyweight tournament might be 500,000 euros. For K-1 it’s 150,000-200,000 euros plus the athlete’s salary. The agreement you reach plays a part. Masato, a Japanese kickboxer, and I have the best deals.»

Before each match he makes the sign of the cross and gets inspiration from Stamatis Spanoudakis’s «Megas Alexandros», and says he tries not to think that 10,000 Greeks are coming to the stadium to see him.

When he has time, he relaxes at his house on Andros and reads. «I liked Dan Millman’s ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior,’ and Paulo Coehlo’s ‘Warrior of the Light: A Manual.’» His dream is to set up a gym and pass on his knowledge to those that follow in his footsteps.

Sporting Limassol > Cyprus’ biggest festival of sport October 11, 2007

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Cyprus’ biggest festival of sport kicks off next weekend in Limassol. Whether you watch or take active part is up to you

With so much attention given to the Cyprus Rally, it comes as great relief to the non-petrol heads among us to have an entire festival devoted to human sporting endeavours to look forward to, particularly now that summer is almost over and the beach is beginning to lose its appeal.

Now in its 8th year,Lemesia” is the largest celebration of sport in Cyprus and, while focusing on professional athleticism, it also aims to encourage citizens to haul themselves off their couches to enjoy some exercise and try something new. Athos Xenofontos is responsible for putting the whole thing together and is the man who first planted the seeds of the festival back in 1998. Since then, Lemesia has experienced an explosion of growth, attracting more sports events and international athletes every year.

Among the events is an exhibition of photographs depicting Cyprus’ sporting history and a ceremony to honour Cypriot sportsmen and women of the past, with special recognition to be given to the tremendous achievements of 2007’s heroes: Volvo World Youth Sailing champion Pavlos Kontides, World Championship high jump bronze medallist Kyriakos Ioannou and World Champion shooters George Achilleos and Antonis Nicolaides who train locally.

The nine-day free sporting smorgasbord will kick-off with fireworks, a band competition and dancing to ‘Street Beats’. Here are some of the highlights; whether you want to get active or simply watch is entirely up to you.

10th Marios Agathaggelou international race > The oldest and the catalyst event for the entire Lemesia Festival is the 10km run held in honour of Cypriot athlete and coach, Marios Agathaggelou. “We started in 1998 with the first race. He was a big sportsman, a man ahead of his time. We held the race for two years and afterwards the municipality asked me to make a tournament with other sports so in 2000 we started Lemesia,” explains Athos. Up to 500 athletes will compete in three different races starting from the Municipal Gardens; the main race will take in two and a half laps to the Old Port while a 3km fun style event will run alongside a 1km race for children under the age of twelve. €1,000 is the top prize in the main event in which international runners will compete against teams from the National Guard and United Nations. Registration begins one hour before the runners set-off, entry is free.
Date: Saturday October 20, Time: 4pm, Location: Main entrance of the Municipal Gardens.

Amateur boxing > To encourage more spectators, this year’s boxing championships are going alfresco at the Enaerios parking area, convenient if the early evening fights get a bit dull with numerous nearby cafes or bars nearby to take a break from the pummelling. Contestants from around 15 countries will take part in the Olympic standard competition culminating in a grand final on October 14. Contestants can register for the event by contacting Cyprus.box@cytanet.com.cy
Date: October 12 to 14, Time: 5pm, Location: Enaerios parking area, corner of Archbishop Makariou III and the beach road.

Triathlon > Triathletes tempted by a €500 cash prize for the race winner with €200 and €100 on offer to the runners up, will be competing for what is probably the most challenging Lemesia competition, a ‘full’ triathlon race. Consisting of a 1,500m swim followed by 40km cycle and 10km run on a circuit from the Old to the New Port along the beach road. “We’ve made a special effort to make it a spectator event including changing the course to do several laps instead of a single one,” says Triathlon Federation President Pambos Spanoudes. The best spot to watch from is opposite the Catholic Church on the beach road or along the route through the sculpture park.
Date: Sunday October 14, Time: 9am, Location: route from the old to the new port along the beach road and sculpture park.

Shooting > Undoubtedly one of the most popular activities given the country’s status in world competitive shooting. Around 100 shooters are expected to take part in the Sport discipline competition, each with 30 clay targets to blast into oblivion. With world champion George Achilleos away from the range competing in Belgrade, there’s a sporting chance for anyone who wants to have a go. Entry is free but competitors must register before 12pm on the day.
Date: Sunday October 14, Time: 8am to 1pm, Location: The Limassol Shooting Club, outskirts of Armenochori village.

Veteran Athletics > For ladies over the age of 35 it’s depressing to hear that in sports terms at least, we fall into the ‘veterans’ category. The good news is that the oldies (aged over 40 for men) are still going strong and can show Cyprus’ cafe obsessed younger generation a thing or two about sport. 1980s champion sprinter Angelos Angelides is organising the athletics event consisting of javelin, long jump, shot put and running among others. “Everyone who is coming is not in the best shape but it’s to demonstrate how older athletes still have the courage to compete. It’s a good message to the people of Limassol that they can be involved in sport forever, for their health and to live a better life,” he says. 100 athletes from all over Cyprus will compete against teams from Greece and Romania. All competitors will be awarded a medal.
Date: Sunday October 21, Time: 4pm, Location: Lanitium High School (near McDonalds), Contact for entrants: Angelos Angelides 99324263.

Rhythm Gymnastics > If you want to feel really old then pop along to this event where a host of nubile athletes will be springing, twisting, somersaulting and bending themselves into impossible positions while creating clever displays with balls, ribbon and rope. Organisers were not able to confirm if Cyprus’ most promising gymnast, Raissa Panagioutou, will be demonstrating the talents that took her to the finals of this year’s Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Date and Time: Saturday October 20, 10am to 1pm and 4pm to 8pm, Sunday October 21, 3.30pm to 8.30pm, Location: Spyros Kyprianou Lemesos Stadium off the B8 from Limassol to Troodos road.

Karate > Fluid movement of a more combative nature will be one of the disciplines of the 4th International Traditional Karate Festival organised by president of the federation, Vaso Vassiliou. ‘Kata,’ a set sequence of Karate techniques based on the principles of physical combat, will sit alongside the real ring fights called ‘Kumite,’ meaning ‘a meeting of hands,’ on the Karate festival programme.
Date: Saturday October 20, 4pm to 7pm / Sunday October 21, 10am to 1pm, Location: Ag. Neophitos School, near Orphanides supermarket.

Limassol Cycling Tour > A relatively sedate 20km two wheeled tour of the city, guided by members of the Limassol Cycling Club, will set off from the Enaerios parking area on a circuit to Omonia and back along Makarios Avenue and Molus, taking in a little of the beachfront scenery. Around 400 cyclists are expected at this free to enter event which Club Secretary Christos Geros describes as “purely fun and recreational.” If you want to take part get there early to register and don’t forget to bring a helmet.
Date: Sunday October 21, Time: 10am, Location: Enaerios parking area.

Nikos Kourtidis’s bronze at Weightlifting Worlds September 27, 2007

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Greek Medalist cites inspiration from past > Nikos Kourtidis’s bronze at Weightlifting Worlds influenced by former greats, 21-year-old athlete says

Striving to rebuild the National weightlifting team into a global force following major international success for over a decade beginning in the mid-90s, Greece coach Christos Iakovou will be counting on 21-year-old athlete Nikos Kourtidis, who acknowledged being inspired by past greats following a bronze medal win at the World Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Tuesday.

“It’s a great joy because with these types of successes we’re trying to be resemble the old team, winning medals like they used to, even if they’re not gold,” said Kourtidis, referring to the country’s recent golden era in the sport that was fronted by the retired triple-gold Olympic medalists Pyrros Dimas and Kakhi Kakhiashvili.

Kourtidis, who shone at last year’s European Junior Weightlifting Championships, winning three gold medals in the 105-kilogram category, won bronze at these Worlds in the men’s 105-kilo category with a 226-kilo lift in the clean-and-jerk section.

It was Greece’s first medal in major international competition since Dimas’s bronze at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and, moreover, the young athlete’s first senior-level medal in major competition. Kourtidis also set a new National record, eclipsing a 220-kilo performance set by Costas Garipis late in 2001, as well as a new Greek record in the aggregate category. He totaled 403 kilos for fifth place. Kourtidis’s 177-kilo lift in the snatch gave him seventh place in the category.

Weighing in at slightly over 100 kilos, Kourtidis was the lightest entrant of his category. Both the gold medal winner, Bulgaria’s Alan Tsagaev and the runner-up, Belarus’s Andrei Aramnau, who lifted 231 and 228 kilos respectively, registered at about 104 kilos each.

Kourtidis’s fifth place in the aggregate category provided the National men’s team with 21 points in qualifying competition for next year’s Beijing Olympics.

“I really wanted the gold medal and believed I could win it with my 226-kilo lift. Christos Iakovou had told me that I stood a 90 percent chance for a medal with a performance of that kind. We took a conservative approach. My coach told me to ‘start off with a legitimate lift and then you can do as you please.’ The most important thing of all is Greece’s ranking. We couldn’t risk elimination. I felt really good. It had been a while since I last made three legitimate lifts in the clean and jerk,” Kourtidis said. He acknowledged that the presence of his older brother at the Worlds offered invaluable psychological support.

Competing yesterday, teammate Dimitris Papageridis captured fifth place overall in the super-heavyweight division. The former World and European junior champion set personal bests and National records in both the snatch and clean and jerk with lifts of 195 and 231 kilos respectively.

Related Links > http://www.royalwwc2007.com

Greek Iliadis wins silver at Judo World Championship September 19, 2007

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Greek judo champion Ilias Iliadis landed the silver medal in the World Championship in Rio de Janeiro in the 90-kilogram category.

Iliadis, who also won gold in the Athens Olympics three years ago and silver in the World Championship in 2005 in Cairo, scored four victories before losing in the final to Georgia’s unfancied Irakli Tsirekidze in the Golden Score process.

He did, however, show he is one of the favorites for another gold medal in next year’s Olympics.

Related Links > http://www.worldjudo2007.com/en/index.php

An American-Greek bodybuilder sets sights on Greece September 19, 2007

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An American-Greek 57-year-old bodybuilder may be competing for international laurels this fall in the land of his ancestors > David R. Mastorakis, of Palmer, will try to win a place on Saturday in Venice, California, on the American team that will participate in the “Natural Olympia” on November 25 in Greece.

The international event is sponsored by the International Natural Bodybuilding Association. Natural bodybuilders, in addition to their exercise regimens, use vitamins and dietary supplements, Mastorakis said. But they do not use steroids or physique-enhancing drugs.

Mastorakis, who admits that he used steroids before they were banned, said he has been training naturally for 25 years. He is in the midst of a comeback, after suffering a knee injury several years ago, curbing his workouts and ballooning to 199 pounds and a 39-inch waist. He said he has trimmed down to 153 pounds and a waist of less than 29 inches.

His current workouts consist of high-intensity Nautilus routines and a fat-burning, low-intensity aerobic regimen. In late August, he said he had reduced his body fat content to 6½ to 7 percent. He said he wants it at 3 percent for the international contest. His diet is about 2,000 calories a day, including 35 to 45 grams of fiber and 140 to 160 grams of protein. He said his dietary staples include salmon, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, flaxseed, nuts and some beef.

He qualified in San Francisco earlier this month for the California contest. Mastorakis is confident that he has a shot at qualifying for the event in Greece, which is said is the key contest in natural bodybuilding.

“It will be a lot tougher than the American qualifying contests,” he said. “What really will win in these shows is muscle definition. I’m improving every week. The leaner I get, the tighter it gets.”

Mastorakis works as a personal trainer from his home in Palmer and at the Sheraton Athletic Club in Springfield. He said he began working out to lose weight at age 13, motivated, in part, by an uncle, who called him “fat boy.” By 15, he was competing in bodybuilding contests and had earned a letter of acceptance to the “Mr. America” event.

He said his proudest bodybuilding victory to date was winning “Mr. East Coast” in 1977 at the former Mountain Park in Holyoke. “I had started competing there,” he said. “They had three shows a year. They had bodybuilders from all over the country.”

Mastorakis, who is of Greek and French ancestry, was born in Holyoke and raised in Granby. He graduated from Granby High School in 1968 and served six years in the Army National Guard. He lived for 21 years in Los Angeles, where he worked as a personal trainer, including with such celebrities as Jane Fonda, Leonard Nimoy and Kim Cattrall. He and his wife, have lived in Palmer for seven years.

Although natural bodybuilding is rigorous and time-consuming, Mastorakis said he enjoys gourmet cooking as a hobby. He and his wife also spend leisure time watching cooking shows on television. “I do all the cooking” at home, he said.

Related Links > Mastorakis web site > www.thelordsofdiscipline.com

Dubai Shotokan defend martial arts title August 2, 2007

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Shotokan Japanese sport centre won the fourth international Friendship Karate Cup 2007 in Limassol, Cyprus which was held from July 25 to 29 for the second year in a row.

The team won all their encounters in Kata and Kumite, and they proved their presence in the international field of martial arts. The winning team returned to the UAE with 18 medals.