CYPRUS entered celebratory mode yesterday after Monday’s silver-medal win by Limassol’s Pavlos Kontides in the London Olympics, which has lifted the air of doom and gloom over the ailing economy.
Sociologist Antonios Raftis said such good news had given all Cypriots hope in a time of crisis.
“Finally we’ve heard something good...people were looking for a reason to smile,” he said.
“People want to be proud of their country and they all take it very personally. Every Cypriot is seeing Kontides as if he were their own child.”
"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 sailing 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, 22, brandishing his silver medal on their front pages yesterday.
"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, the theory being that if your town had an Olympic champion you no longer needed artificial protection.
Residents of Kontides's home town of Limassol, the port city from which tennis player Marcos Baghdatis also hails, will be partying tomorrow when Kontides returns. They also plan to ‘throw down a wall’ in his honour close to the municipality.
“We’ve decided to welcome him at the airport on Thursday and a will be brought to the Limassol Nautical Club where there’ll be an initial welcoming and then the main one will take place at 6.30pm on Friday at Enaerios (on the sea front),” said Limassol mayor Andreas Christou.
There will be a public welcome at Enaerios where Kontides will receive various accolades from local sporting bodies, Christou said.
Christou said that they had also asked the Limassol Nautical Club to put on a sailing demonstration during the festivities.
“If we can we’re going to ask some of the authorities such as the Ports Authority to be present in order to highlight the nautical character of the town and the great potential of nautical sports,” said Christou.
Christou also said that not only had Kontides made everyone proud but has become a role model for young people.
Yiannos Fotiou, head of the Cyprus Sailing Federation said it was expected that he would win at the Olympics. “He’s worked very hard…harder than some athletes...”
On Friday morning Kontides will be honoured with the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Cyprus. He will be presented with the distinction – also granted to former President George Vassiliou – in an intimate ceremony with his family and President Demetris Christofias on Friday morning at the presidential palace.
Kontides currently ranks 11th in the world for men’s laser but has held 6th and 8th positions in the past. He was beaten to the Olympic gold by Australian Tom Slingsby
During his long road to Olympic fame, Kontides gave up his studies for two years, and suffered through a number of injuries during his training.
People who know him describe 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.