2004 Olympic silver-medal winners qualify for FINA Super Finals
By Sophia A. Niarchos
Oyster Bay, N.Y. – They had to overcome psychological obstacles caused by many years of losing, but, with the help of a strict coach, the players on the Greek Women’s Water Polo team who won the silver medal at last year’s Olympics (beating the U.S. team, which earned the bronze) placed fourth in the FINA World League series semifinals held in Nassau County’s Eisenhower Park Aquatic Center earlier this month. Their reward is a place in the standings for the FINA World Final games which are to be played in Russia in August and the possibility of winning some of the $185,000 prize money that will be up for grabs at that time.
“In order to win,” coach Kyriakos Iosiphidis told GreekNews, “they have to care, to work hard and love what they do, have passion for it, worry.” Until he came into the picture two years ago, bringing along his more than two-decade history with championship teams, “the women had gotten used to losing and didn’t care.”
Iosiphidis, who coached the Greek men’s national team during the Atlanta Olympics, and garnered second and fourth places for it in FINA and European Cup competitions respectively, attributes the women’s team’s successes to his insistence on discipline and taking practice seriously.
“I told them that when they laugh during training, they will cry at the games and that by crying (i.e., suffering) at practices, the laughing at the competition gives you so much joy, even for the short time it lasts, because you know your effort is at the top.
“Two to three years earlier, we were far away from the other teams. Just like if a car is running in front of you at 100 km/hour, and you want to pass it, you have to go 101 km/hour, so too, if we want to catch the teams who are ahead of us, we have to work harder than they do. The women had to learn this, so I made a deal with them that if they wanted to win, that’s how it had to be.”
His determination (“I convinced them to work even when they were tired”) was not lost on the team’s members, who did not hesitate to credit him for their accomplishments.
Evangelia Moraitidis remembered life before last year’s Olympics when “we had problems with every game.
“But the Olympics united us,” she said. She noted that the coach’s practice and game-playing demands required that she give up private time and traveling, a favorite pastime. Even her career as an architect was put on hold (temporarily, she insists) because she had no time to work on the final project required for certification.
“But when you achieve, you don’t mind sacrificing,” she was quick to point out.
Goalie Georgia Ellinaki, who blocked two U.S. attempts to score additional points when the U.S. and Greece were tied at the end of the regulation play in their second preliminaries game (Greece had beat the U.S. in Long Beach, Calif., a week earlier), credits the coach’s ability to help the women overcome psychological blocks and the strict training schedule he instituted for the team’s improvement. But her definition of the word “team” may provide the greatest insight about its transformation:
A team, she said, is “thirteen players who have good relationships and the coordination of their thinking and actions so that they are thinking what the other person is thinking.”
Team Leader Michalis Konstantinidis, was proud of the women’s record on Long Island, since, before the loss to the U.S. in the second to the last day of the preliminaries (7-6 in the only five-meter penalty shootout of the preliminaries), they were able to win games against Australia (9-7), Brazil (9-5), and Germany (8-4), with their only other loss in the game against Canada (6-4) on opening day. He was surprised, however, at the low attendance at the competition.
“In Greece, people know about water polo, but with the exception of California, this isn’t the case in the U.S,” he said.