Pavlos Kontides: Sailing for Home

Entering his third Olympic Games, sailor Pavlos Kontides, like many competitors, has just one goal in mind – to win Olympic gold. But unlike a large number of athletes in Rio, Kontides will also be attempting to claim his country’s first gold medal – ever. His ascent into the sailing spotlight has made him not only a poster child for sailing and sport back home, but also a Role Model for the entire nation of Cyprus.

Μετά από έξι μέρες και 12 αγώνες είμαι στην τρίτη θέση. Παραμένει σημερινή και τελευταία ημέρα με δύο αγώνες. Νιώθω καλά – είμαι συγκεντρωμένος. Χρειάζομαι τη στήριξη σας, χρειάζομαι την θετικότητα σας για να πάρουμε την πρώτη θέση. Πάμε! 🏅 Six days down and twelve races later, I have managed to build up to overall third position – two races left later on today! I'm feeling great, much more focused and will give my all! Wish me luck! 🏅 #lasersailing #laser #sailing #mexico #pavloskontides #GoingForGold #μ Photo Credits: JL Digital Media

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Kontides’ ambitions to win gold this Olympics are no pipe dream. At the last Olympic Games, the 26-year-old budding star won silver in the men’s Laser race, and figures to be in serious contention once again. Medaling at London 2012 was a monumental achievement for himself and his home country. In fact, it was the first-ever Olympic medal for Cyprus of any kind. Needless to say, Kontides was well received upon returning home. For a country of just over a million people, he means a great deal. Added on top of Cyprus’ tumultuous past and its even more impressive, as well as timely, that a national hero has come to the fore.

Ever since the Turkish invasion of 1974, Cyprus has remained a divided nation, with the northern part of the Mediterranean island dominated by Turkish influence and the southern region comprised mainly of those with Greek heritage. The two sides have failed to coexist harmoniously. The country has also had other issues. After the recent global financial crisis, Cyprus had no choice but to accept a $11.1 billion bailout, however, that didn’t stop unemployment from rising to 16.5% in 2015, up from just 3.4% in 2008. Kontides has navigated these obstacles the best way he knows how – by sailing. His Unique journey to becoming a top sailor, despite hailing from a country in crisis and lacking droves of world-class athletes, has helped to inspire the Cypriot people and provide hope for national unity.

Realizing his status back home, Kontides has fully embraced the role of serving as a Role Model. His humble demeanor alongside his willingness to meet with fans and provide advice has hardly gone unnoticed. Through promoting sports for Cypriot youth, Kontides has been praised by the President of the Cyprus Sports Organization, Klea Hadjistefanou. He has even been given his very own commemorative postage stamp. He has ostensibly single-handedly boosted the sport of sailing back home, as sailing licenses since 2012 have increased by more than 25%.

The Cyprus Sailing Federation has been right alongside to help. Despite economic shortages in Cyprus, the organization has raised its annual budget to $400,000, up from $150,000 in 2012. It’s no surprise where the rise in popularity has come from. Following a successful London 2012, Kontides has given the nation something around which it can rally. According to Yiannos Photiou, President of the Cyprus Sailing Federation, “Pavlos has become the role model for many young sailors.” Furthermore, Photiou stated that “it’s unbelievable how many young boys and girls are now interested in sailing and I strongly believe that this is all because of Pavlos.”

It’s fitting that he was selected to be the Cypriot flagbearer at the opening ceremony. And while he may identify more with the Greek portion of Cyprus, his focus is on the whole. “Of course I’m competing for everybody. Cyprus is one country and I am fighting for the whole nation.” Kontides embodies everything you’d want an Olympic representative to be – competitive, bright, caring, and determined. After all, as he states, “we are so small but we have big heart.”

Kontides has already proven a hero in his home country. Now, he’ll look to make even more Olympic history as Cyprus eagerly follows along. And while he might not carry the entire weight of his home on his shoulders, he’s placed himself in a strong position from which he can guide his people from the imminent storms, rough waters, and murky abyss. So far, he’s made a career of doing just that, and there’s no doubting he’ll press on as the man from the small country with a big heart.

 

Follow Pavlos Kontides on Instagram @pavloskontides and Twitter @PavlosKontides

Written by Athlete CRUSH Staff

Posted 16 August 2016