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Greeks and the Winter Olympics

It's a little known fact that yes, Greece and Cyprus do have athletes in the Winter Olympics.  This may not be as unbelievable or funny as thoughts of the Jamaican Bobsled team, but you can't forget that the eastern Mediterranean's two frontrunners in the sun and sea categories, do actually see snow in the higher elevations.  Of course the Winter Olympics are a modern creation.  Generally mild temperatures and the preference for naked athletics probably kept the Ancient Greeks off of snow and ice.   It's a shame that NBC's pro-American coverage and Greece's understandable lack of skill on these surfaces makes it so that you'll never see any of these athletes, but they are still out there in Salt Lake City competing for their nations. 

Greece and Cyprus' combined 11 athletes have found their way into some of the most watched sports of these games.  Greece has a handful of skiers, including two biathletes.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the event, biathlon combines cross country skiing with precision rifle shooting.  The key to biathlon is for the understandably revved up cross country skier to control his or her heart rate just enough to be able to fire off a few shots at targets some 50 yards away.  It's a surprise that Greece could find not one, but two, patient and even-keeled Greeks to participate.   

Given the Greeks' risk-taking nature, it's not a surprise that Greece has a snowboarder, a two-man bobsled team, and a participant in one of the Olympics most talked about sports, Skeleton.  To clarify, the members of the two-man bobsled team and the Skeleton racer are Greek-Americans who are racing under the Greek flag for these games.  (Question:  If Bobsled is called Bobsled in the U.S., and it's called Bobsleigh by the rest of the English-speaking world, what would you call the sport in Greece, Haralambos-sled or Haralambos-sleigh?)  Skeleton is a sport making its return to the Winter Olympics for the first time since the 1948 games.  It's a lot like Luge except for the fact that racers go down the track headfirst.  Now see, that's a Greek sport.  When have you not known a Greek to be headstrong and ready to meet a challenge head-on? 

If you notice there are no Greek figure skaters or ice dancers.  Is it due to the lack of ice in Greece?  Is it possible that all the ice in Greece is being used for one purpose and one purpose only... to water down the drinks given to tourists in bars and clubs on the Greek islands?  Could the lack of ice dancers be due to a country steeped in a line dance tradition where the zembekiko and tsifteteli pass for couple's dancing?  We were able to steal the following footage from a Greek Ice Dancing routine.              

Welcome back to Salt Lake City, where we join the final round of the Ice Dancing competition.  Next up is the pair representing Greece, Kostas and Eleni Pagomenis.  And they're off.  Eleni is skating beautifully, but why is Kostas just standing there snapping his fingers?  Now wait, the dancers have switched positions.  Kostas is showing off and Eleni is now down on one knee clapping approvingly.  I haven't seen anything like it in my 25 years of skating coverage.  And here come the scores.  While they are receiving poor technical marks, the high-strung judges of this year's games seem to approve of Greece's completely tame national costumes, although the Russian judge may have a problem with the length of Kostas' foustanela. 

No matter what the event, we hope that Greece or Cyprus finally breaks through its respective lifetime drought in Winter Olympic medals.  These games will probably end with no Greeks tallying in the medal column, but the end of these games will bring Greece and Cyprus that much closer to the summer of 2004, where a huge home field advantage will look to make the world recognize Greece and Cyprus as athletic powers in their own right.     

Read past feature articles.