06 October, 2013

The man who made me love athletics

It seems fit, before embarking upon the more technical entries that will follow, to take a moment and reminisce days of the past and my first contact with athletics.

I was born in Piraeus, Greece in 1946 and during my very young age I did not show much interest for sports. I was more of a book fan type. Then in 1955 (or was it 54?) something happened. A cousin of mine, who lived in Corfu, was professor of physical education and also coach of the local athletic club. He came to Athens with a junior athlete of his who was to win the 400 and 800 m in the greek junior championships. On that occasion my cousin took me to the stadium (the superb Panathinaikon stadium, that had hosted the first, 1896, Olympic games). In those two days I discovered athletics. It was, as the saying goes, love at first sight.

Athletics became a passion of mine. I started practicing myself and I also became interested in the more "theoretical" aspects of the sport. (A parenthesis is necessary at this point. I knew from the outset that I did not have any particular talent for track and field events and that I could do much better in swimming. However, in the 50s in Greece, swimming-pools, especially indoor ones, were almost non-existent and my swimming career had to wait. Fortunately in the late 70s, I discovered fin-swimming and could, not only satisfy my dream of becoming a swimmer, but also managed to win titles of greek and french champion several times over). 

My love for athletics would probably not exist hadn't there been for my cousin who initiated me to the king of all sports. I wish thus to dedicate this entry to his memory, a modest tribute to this noble person.
Yannis Sofos was born in Corinth in 1917. He was a physical education professor and had been a distinguished athlete: an excellent discus thrower but also a very good sprinter while being interested also in team sports and in particular football. The photo that follows shows him at a young age in the attitude of a javelin thrower as represented in ancient greek pottery.

As a member of the Physical Education Academy he had participated at the "Olympiad for folkloric dances" in Berlin, in 1937, where he won the gold medal. He was a fervent supporter of the Olympic idea, always defending the values of olympism in his talks and texts.

Y. Sofos in the 60s

His son, Dr. Apostolos Sofos, has collected the, alas too few, existing manuscripts of his father on the Olympic ideal, and was kind enough to make them available to me together with the photos. (They are in greek, so I do not link to them here. If anybody is interested, he can manifest himself in the comments). 

Although I did profit from the advice of Y. Sofos at the beginning of my athletic career, I cannot say that I was really coached by him. When he was living in Corfu this would have been naturally impossible and when, in the 60s, he moved with his family to Athens, I had started losing interest in athletics as a competitor. Still, I have always had a great contact with him, a deep appreciation and respect for his personality and I immensely regret his premature passing away in 1974. This entry is a small tribute to this exceptional person who, by the coincidences that shape our lives, became a cousin of mine (marrying the daughter of my elder aunt) and made me not only discover athletics but also the benefit of physical activity and the excitement of competition. My life has been richer thanks to Yannis: I will always remember him.

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