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Chondrokoukis has high Helsinki hopes

Dimitrios Chondrokoukis

Dimitrios Chondrokoukis

Greek high jumper Dimítrios Chondrokoúkis has been dreaming about this summer’s European Athletics Championships for several years.

“A few years ago, I was at a small meeting elsewhere in Finland and we went to look at the Olympic stadium where this summer’s Europeans will be held. I just sat there and took in the surrounds and thought how beautiful it was and knew that I wanted to compete there one day,” explained the 24-year-old who won at the World Indoor Championships last month.

In sharp contrast to Istanbul, where he upset the odds and jumped a lifetime best of 2.33m to take the gold medal, Chondrokoúkis now knows that he has a target on his back.

“Thinking about getting medals right now is something novel but I hope I will be in good shape and able to do my best in Helsinki.

“In Istanbul, I didn’t expect to be the winner, I just wanted to be competitive. I’m not a pessimistic person, I was just thinking realistically that there were a lot of jumpers who were jumping and who had better personal bests and better seasonal best.

“The truth is, if some other people had jumped their personal bests and seasonal bests, then I would not have been on the podium but after 2.31m, I just concentrated.”

It was never obvious that Chondrokoukis would triumph as he needed two attempts to go over both 2.28m and 2.31m. There were eight men clear at the latter height but when the bar went up to 2.33m, Chondrokoúkis showed his fighting spirit and cleared it at the first time of asking.

Only Russia’s Andrey Silnov got over that height but the 2006 European Athletics Championships gold and 2008 Olympic champion did it at his second attempt and when Silnov brought the bar down on the third occasion at 2.35m, Greece had something to celebrate during a grim period for the country.

“At 2.33m, my legs felt good and I felt I had the strength for it,” reflected Chondrokoúkis modestly.

With his confidence boosted, and no worries about how he will finance his training for the next few months after pocketing a first prize cheque for $40,000, Chondrokoúkis can look forward to the European Athletics Championships with optimism.

“I’m very happy to take the first place at the World Indoor Championships but I must not get too excited. The year has not ended! There are many more competitions for me and, of course, Helsinki and London.

“Helsinki will see a lot of the top high jumpers there. Most of the top high jumpers are European so it will be like a World Championships. I have heard about how interested in athletics the Finnish people are so I hope that there is a full crowd and I am sure we will reward them with a good competition.

Another ambition for Chondrokoúkis this summer is to attack Lámbros Papakóstas’s Greek record of 2.36m, which will potentially celebrate its 20th anniversary on 21 June.

Chondrokoúkis has already surpassed Papakóstas’s competitive feats with his gold medal in Istanbul, as the latter had to settle for two World Indoor Championships silver medals during his career, and now he is looking to remove his name from the record books.

“I have a lot of respect for Papakóstas, he was a great jumper and his record is a good mark but now there are two good Greek high jumpers, myself and Konstadínos (Baniótis, who was fourth both in Istanbul and at the 2011 European Athletics Championships). I am sure that we will push each other to improve and maybe we can get the record,” added Greek athletics’ new star.

The 2012 European Athletics Championships will be held in Helsinki from 27 June – 1 July.

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