LIMASSOL, Cyprus (Reuters) - Cyprus hailed its first Olympic medal winner, sailor Pavlos Kontides, on Tuesday and said his silver in the single-handed Laser class had salvaged national pride and brought hope in a time of economic upheaval.
Cyprus sought emergency financial aid from its EU partners in June to buffer a banking sector hammered by exposure to Greece, becoming the fifth euro zone country to need a bailout.
“In such times, people need an idol, something to look forward to,” said Daphne Karayianni-Diamanti, a member of the Limassol Nautical Club where Kontides started training at the age of eight.
“We owe Pavlos a great deal,” she told Reuters. “He really does inspire others.”
Newspapers ditched the normal doom and gloom for photos of a beaming Kontides brandishing his silver medal on their front pages on Tuesday.
“Throw down the walls,” wrote the daily Politis, harking back to stories of ancient Greece when cities would tear down their walls to welcome home Olympic champions.
“Thank you, Pavlos.”
Residents of Kontides’s home town of Limassol, a port city from which tennis player Marcos Baghdatis also hails, will be partying on Thursday when Kontides returns.
“We are living a dream, this is an amazing feeling,” said Yiannis Papazoglou, Kontides’s first coach at the Limassol Nautical Club. “We had him here as a boy, he is still our boy.”
People who know him described Kontides as a committed sportsman who would get up at the crack of dawn for training before secondary school, where he was an over-achiever, and head straight back to the beach afterwards.
“His dad brought him here when he was six. Even then, he had this gleam in his eye when he looked at the sea,” said Papazoglou, head coach at Limassol Nautical Club.
“He has the whole package, it’s not only the talent, he is a true gem, a hard worker with military discipline, and he is very humble,” Papazoglou told Reuters.
Kontides’s father Panayiotis, a doctor, was a keen sailor. Most of Kontides’s training was financed by his family.
Although an island, sailing is a sport which is still under development in Cyprus.
“People used to fear the sea, because of the pirates and raiders,” said Papazoglou, adding that Kontides’s medal would popularise the sport like never before.
“Cyprus is a sailing paradise.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford