Cyprus basked in Olympic glory on Tuesday after its first ever medal winner Pavlos Kontides sailed his Laser to silver and can expect a hero’s welcome when he returns home to the east Mediterranean island.
Starved of international sporting success, the local media lapped up Monday’s London 2012 medal triumph as a much-needed antidote to gloomy recession economics.
Kontides has been showered with congratulations and plaudits from across the Cyprus political and sporting spectrum.
Daily newspaper Politis summed up the mood with the simple headline: “Pavlos, we thank you,” while the mass-circulation Phileleftheros said Kontides has written the first golden chapter in Cypriot sport.
“There is nobody like you,” trumpeted daily sports newspaper Goal on its front page.
Sport Day went even further. It ran a front-page opinion piece calling Kontides “our modern-day Saint Paul.” The saint’s first missionary journey took him to Cyprus.
“He has come to make us believe that nothing is impossible in this life,” it said.
Simerini newspaper said Kontides had single-handedly raised the profile of Cyprus sport on his mast.
On Monday the 22-year-old won the silver medal in the men’s Laser one-person dinghy event on 59 points behind Australia’s Tom Slingsby with 43 — the Laser is the largest “single-handed” class of sailboat in the world.
“It’s a historic day for Cypriot sport and I’m very happy that I’m the one responsible for it,” he said soon after receiving his medal.
Kontides is now expected back home on Thursday to a rapturous reception from grateful fans, especially in his home Limassol, the island’s second city on the south coast.
He can also expect to be thanked personally by President Demetris Christofias who attended the first week of the Games.
Before the event nobody in Cyprus had dared to believe that Kontides could steer to a podium place. He took a two-year break from his studies at Southampton University in England to prepare for 2012 and had to overcome several injuries.
The island’s first ever medal hopes had been pinned on world class skeet shooter George Achilleos, tennis player Marcos Baghdatis — who both failed — and Kyriacos Ioannou who was competing in Tuesday’s high jump final.
Cyprus joined the International Olympic Committee in 1979 and sent its first team to Moscow.
It sent a 13-strong team to London representing athletics, sailing, cycling, gymnastics, shooting, swimming and tennis in search of that elusive first medal.
Sailing is considered a minority sport in Cyprus where the national game is football. But the “Saint Pavlos factor” is now expected to inspire a new generation of aspiring Olympic seafarers.