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June 20, 2024

Cypriot Olympic pioneer eyes repeat success at fifth Olympics

At London 2012, Kontides became the first athlete to win an Olympic medal for the island of Cyprus in any sport.

To this day he is the only Cypriot yet to step up to the Olympic podium, so it’s little surprise that he has been his country’s flagbearer into the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Games.

Kontides can still remember the pivotal moment when he started to believe that he might be able to achieve something special in the sport of sailing.

“I remember being at a youth championship in 2008 and there was a coach Jim Saltonstall [former British Olympic coach] who mentioned how so many of the sailors who won youth medals went on to win medals at the Olympics. Jim was saying that in this room are the people we will one day see on the Olympic podium.

“This made me realise that, at my age, I had the time to go on and maybe win an Olympic medal if I have the right team around me, even if I am from a small nation.”

Taking forward that positive attitude, Kontides wouldn’t have to wait long before he started to achieve big things on the senior circuit.

“The 2010 season was very good for me,” he recalls. “I had two silver medals in the World Cups in Miami and Weymouth and I was still only 19 years old. And then for the build-up to the Games we spent a lot of time in Weymouth during the summer, understanding the wind behaviour and getting used to the waves and the winds.”

By the Games in Weymouth, Kontides felt ready, but to go and win the silver medal with the medal race to spare was an incredible leap for the 22-year-old.

“Tom Slingsby was the favourite for the gold medal and he was at another level, so for me to win the silver and beat so many great sailors was an amazing feeling.”

A big factor in Kontides’ rapid rise to the top was his inclusion in the Croatian men’s dinghy ILCA 7 training group.

“My coach Jozo Jakelic from Croatia, he’s been my coach since 2007. I first worked with him at a training camp in 2006 and I realised that if I want to achieve something in this sport then I wouldn’t be able to do that if I stayed in Cyprus.

“There just wasn’t the knowledge or the coach at the right level. So I started working with Jozo and he has helped me a lot through my career.”

The partnership with the Croatians has helped lift some smaller nations to be able to compete on equal terms with the big sailing powers. Following Kontides’ silver at London 2012, his friend and training partner Tonci Stipanovic went on to win the next two silvers at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.

For the Cypriot, when he hasn’t been able to win the medal for himself, the next best consolation prize is to see Stipanovic take the podium instead.
“In London Tonci was fourth, so it was hard for him but it was the Croatians who organised the party for me and celebrated with me. So these people are not just coaching training partners for me. They are part of my family and I’m sure that when this sailing journey ends, we will still be connected and still be really good friends for the rest of our lives. It’s really nice to have these bonds, especially with people from different countries.”
Now on his fifth Olympic campaign, the 34-year-old hasn’t ruled out the possibility of doing a sixth for Los Angeles 2028. It’s notable that a lot of the current front runners are well in their thirties, quite surprising considering the immense physical demands of the men’s dinghy ILCA 7.
The Hague, The Netherlands is hosting the 2023 Allianz Sailing World Championships from 11th to 20th August 2023. More than 1200 sailors from 80 nations are racing across ten Olympic sailing disciplines. Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Competition places will be awarded as well as 10 World Championship medals Credit: Sailing Energy / World Sailing. 20 August 2023.

Having won the silver medal in 2012 Kontides felt the pressure of having to repeat or even better that performance.

“Many times we go into a championship with expectations, and it’s easy to allow the public and the media to put extra pressure on yourself, which is not necessarily helpful. That’s what I learned personally from Rio.

“I always aim to do my best and once you are giving 100% then you have to tell yourself that you can’t change anything else. That’s the attitude that I’ve been using since then, and it’s what helped me win the World Championships in 2017 and 2018.”

Finishing fourth at the last major event before the Games, the Semaine Olympique Francaise at the end of April, Kontides appears to be on track and definitely in the hunt for a second Olympic medal.

“There are some sailors showing really good form at the moment, but I will concentrate on myself for the next months and prepare myself as much as possible for the Games.

“I will try everything to be as professional as possible and get my body, my mind ready in the possible way. The aim is to just go there and enjoy those seven days of racing in Marseille.”

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