The Last Word: The Greeks must go to the Games even if they're not very likely lads

 

Thank goodness for BBC4. True, if you flick the remote through the other myriad channels you can occasionally come up with the odd gem, such as the film version of The Likely Lads on ITV3 on Good Friday afternoon, with Rodney Bewes standing with his hangdog expression on the banks of the Tyne, bemoaning: "In the chocolate box of life the top layer's already gone – and someone's pinched the orange cream from the bottom."

Still, BBC4 has made television worth the watching, not least for the brilliant Talk at the BBC series. The week before last Sir George Robertson recalled his experiences as "Britain's first Olympian", as his 1960 interview with Derek Hart was billed. Sir George, who died in 1967, was an accidental Olympian in the first modern Games of 1896. A prize-winning scholar in Greek and an Oxford Blue as a hammer thrower, he paid £11 to make the trip to Athens after spotting an advert for the Games in a London travel agency.

"Greek classics were my proper academic field, so I could hardly resist a go at the Olympics, could I?" he reasoned. Dismayed to find there was no hammer on the programme when he arrived, Sir George competed in the shot and discus instead. He also took part in the tennis doubles, winning a bronze medal as the partner of Edwin Flack, the Australian who won the 800m and 1500m on the track.

Asked "how well organised" the Games had been, Sir George replied: "They weren't organised at all. The Greeks had no experience at all of running an athletic meeting. The thing was happy-go-lucky from start to finish. That's what made it so entertaining. It was most amusing."

Due to lack of financial support from the Greek government the organising committee, led by Crown Prince Constantine, had to raise money by selling souvenir stamps and medals. They were also indebted to a businessman, Georgios Averoff, for donating the money that allowed the Panathinaiko stadium used in the ancient Olympic Games to be reconstructed.

The Greeks may well have given the world the modern Games, with the guiding hand of the French baron Pierre de Coubertin, but they have enjoyed precious little luck with the grand quadrennial sporting show.

There were all those problems getting Athens ready for the 2004 Games, and the shenanigans involving Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou and the disputed circumstances surrounding the hospitalisation of the Greek sprinters when a drug-testing team turned up at the athletes' village.

There were two home winners in the showpiece track-and-field arena in those Athenian Games: Athanasia Tsoumeleka in the 20km walk and Fani Halkia in the 400m hurdles. Both failed drug tests in 2008. And at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing Greece won just one medal in the Bird's Nest stadium, a bronze in the triple jump courtesy of Hrysopiyi Devetzi.

Four months out from the London Games, they have unearthed a new track-and-field star. At the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul last month Dimitrios Chondrokoukis was a surprise winner of the men's high jump, upsetting Olympic champion Andrei Silnov and his Russian team-mate Ivan Ukhov, the world indoor champion. "I am very happy and very lucky," the 24-year-old Athenian said, after raising his personal best from 2.29m to 2.33m.

Chondrokoukis was not so happy on Wednesday when the Hellenic Amateur Athletic Federation, Segas, announced they were ceasing operations "until further notice" in protest at drastic cuts in government funding. All domestic competitions were suspended and the Greek federation warned that they would not be able to send athletes to the European Championships in Helsinki in June.

With the threat of bankruptcy hanging over the country, the Greek government have cut their funding of athletics by a third in each of the past three years. National coaches have not been paid since June last year and athletes have complained that facilities built for the 2004 Games have been poorly maintained.

"The conditions are unacceptable and facilities are a big problem," Chondrokoukis said. "There is a lack of heat in the winter and of air conditioning in the summer. Nevertheless, we all keep trying. I do it purely for personal reasons." His father forbade politicians from attending his son's homecoming celebrations after Istanbul. "Politicians are closing athletic facilities," he said. "It is unbelievable what is happening. No politician has a right to congratulate or partake in an athlete's triumph."

By Thursday it was clear that Segas's actions would not preclude Greece from sending a track-and-field team to the London Olympics. Panos Bitsaxis, the government's general secretary of sports, said: "Greece will be in London with around 100 athletes."

The assurance came with a warning to Segas. "The gentlemen of the federation must take into account the time and place we live in today. The athletics federation is the locomotive of Greek athletics but there is no doubt that the financial crisis cannot leave Greek athletics untouched. The resources are limited."

As they were when Sir George Robertson travelled to the Greek capital for the first Games of the modern era. Let us hope, after all of its travails, that the homeland of the Games can enjoy some measure of success – if not prosperity – in the chocolate box of Olympic life in London in 2012.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star