LONDON (Reuters) - Ilias Iliadis put aside his disappointment at missing out on a judo gold medal at the London Olympics and said he hoped the bronze he won on Wednesday will bring some joy to those suffering in crisis-hit Greece.
Iliadis said he wanted his medal, Greece’s first of the Games, to have a positive impact back home. He had been favorite to add gold in the men’s -90kg category to the one he won in Athens as a teenager eight years ago.
However, he was upset at the quarter-final stage by Russia’s Kirill Denisov before going on to defeat Camilo Tiago for a bronze medal.
”Really I am happy for this medal because Greece needs this medal at this time. Greek people need this medal,“ he told Reuters. ”Everybody knows about the hard times in Greece.
“I want to say thanks to everybody in Greece who was watching my fight. It would have been good if it was gold but no bad thing that it’s bronze.”
Since winning gold in Athens in 2004, which made him an overnight sensation, Georgian-born Iliadis has literally become a flagbearer for Greek Olympic sport, chosen to carry their banner at the Beijing Games.
Not fully fit in 2008, he came home empty-handed and said before leaving for London he was desperate to cheer up his nation, where nearly one in four are out of work and wages are being slashed as the near-bankrupt nation pushes through painful austerity measures.
In a reflection, perhaps, of how tough times are for Greeks, his family and their friends were the only obvious Greek fans in the arena at London’s ExCel Centre to watch him in action.
They said the desire to win for Greece might have cost him the title.
“He was worried because of the pressure,” said his sister Nina Illiadou, who with the rest of his family were wearing T-shirts that spelled out his name in large letters.
“He’s a Greek and he wanted to lift his country but things didn’t turn out as we hoped. He’s an athlete and this happens in judo. We believe that he deserved to win,” she told Reuters from the stands where they had been screaming his name during his fights.
“We are disappointed (he didn’t get gold) because he was so well prepared and we didn’t expect it.”
Born Jarji Zviadauri, his Georgian roots were once an issue, but he has a Greek wife and his easy-going personality -- he was happy to put his bronze medal on anyone who talked to him -- has won over most people in his adopted homeland.
Editing by Peter Rutherford