August 26, 2004

26 August 2004: Sprinter Fani Halkia brings a packed OAKA stadium down as she triumphs in the women's 400-metre hurdles by a horse's length in what was the highest moment of the Athens Olympics as far as the host's athletics team was concerned. Halkia captured much of the spirit in which Athens was hosting these Games when she told national television, moments after her victory, that she wanted to stress Greeks' ability to match the abilities of their ancestors.
I said that today I'm not losing, whatever happens. I wanted to show all the world that the Greeks can stand

tall, and as we were tall in ancient times now we stand tall again. It should not surprise people that we are first. We must be proud,' Halkia said. Moments after 'rocket' Halkia won the country's sixth gold medal in the women's 400m hurdles, the electrified 70,000-strong crowd burst into a thunderous, rhythmic chant which disrupted the start of the men's 200m semifinals for nearly 10 minutes: 'KEN- TE~RIS... KEN- TE-RIS...' The ostensibly disgraced name of the race's most conspicuous Greek absence, Sydney Olympics gold medallist and world champion Costas Kenteris was given a defiant, prolonged ovation, comparable only to the venerating farewell for three-time Olympic weightlifting gold-medallist Pyrros Dimas as he collected the last (bronze) medal of his own, untarnished sports career. Kenteris was disqualified from the Athens Games after dodging an unscheduled test for doping together with fellow Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou on the eve of the opening ceremony on August 13, There was success on August 26 outside track and field as well. Defending Olympic champion Nikos Kaklamanakis finally prevailed over the elements, but not over his Israeli friend and adversary, to win silver in the men's Mistral surfboard earlier in the morning. Gal Fridman made history by winning Israel's first Olympic gold medal in this dramatic event.

Dimitris Yannopoulos

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