The Greek teenager from Athens 2004 eyes off Tokyo comeback

Photo : www.canoeicf.com
www.canoeicf.com|11-Sep-2019 17:33

Christos Tsakmakis hasn’t been competing much since the 2012 Olympics. If he’s being honest, he hasn’t even been training a lot.

But on Friday he celebrated his 32nd birthday, and what better way to celebrate your milestone than to spend it doing something you love. In Tsakmakis’s case its sitting in a canoe, and as luck would have it, the ICF canoe slalom world cup final was on in Prague, so…

Christos Tsakmakis is no canoeing novice. Cast your memory back to Athens, 2004, and the 16-year-old Greek paddling out onto the biggest sporting stage in the world in front of a passionate home crowd. That was Christos Tsakmakis.

Not surprisingly, that hot August day was pretty overwhelming for the teenager. He didn’t make the C1 final, but the dye was cast. Canoe slalom was the sport for him, and the Olympics was where he wanted to do it.

Four years later he was back in Beijing. Now 20, he was much more in control of the situation. He made the final, finishing a very competitive seventh. And then came London in 2012, where he finished a disappointing 15th. But still just 24, the future still looked bright.

But that was pretty much the last the slalom world saw of the affable Greek. Until this week in Prague, when he suddenly resurfaced, a husband, a father, and with a life outside of slalom.

But the fire was still burning inside.

“I’ve been back one or two times, but I have already forgotten when they were.

“I’ve missed the competition, but I’m really happy to be back, and see all the people again. It’s like a big family, the kayak family,” Tsakmakis said.

“I wanted to race in Markkleeberg, but with my job it was not so easy to get free, so as this was the final world cup, I decided to come back. I have a lot of nice memories of this course.

“I plan to compete in La Seu, and we will see what happens there. Everything is open there, for everyone it is the same chance, although everyone else has a bigger chance because they train more.”

The Olympic dream. Athletes work so hard to get to their first Games, make so many sacrifices. And then once they get there, nearly everyone desperately wants to get back for more. Missing a Games and watching on as others have all the fun can make athletes really hungry.

That’s the story of Christos Tsakmakis.

“I would like to go to another Olympics, but with no training it will be really hard,” he said.

“2016 was really hard watching on, but I was really happy to see the other athletes that I had been competing with in the years before. It’s a big part of my life.

“I’m working eight to ten hours per day, so it’s really hard. I’ve trained a little bit in the past couple of weeks. I always try and do my best, and that is important for me.

“It’s not only the results, it’s also about being here and enjoying the racing and the competition. I’m happy.”

Being a dad is also an incentive for Tsakmakis. His son is now six, and who doesn’t want to make their kids proud by competing at an Olympics?

 

“He didn’t see me often competing, but he was always happy to be next to me and see his father paddling,” he said. “I think for the kids it’s a really impressive thing, and maybe for the future it will be his turn.

“It would be the biggest surprise for me if I can get to Tokyo, and maybe for him as well.”

Tsakmakis also has a dream of one day competing again on the course where the Olympic journey started for him, in Athens. The world-class venue has rarely been used since the 2004 Games, and other issues have become more important for Greek politicians and the public.

But there is talk the venue may be cleaned up and put to use again. It would be very attractive for European paddlers looking to escape the freezing winter waters, and much easier to get to than the southern hemisphere venues.

“We have one of the most wonderful courses in Athens, and I hope it will be open again soon, so everyone from Europe can travel there,” Tsakmakis said.

“It’s really close for everybody, and easy to transport the boats, it will be a really nice opportunity.”

What better way to focus the minds of the decision makers than to have a Greek athlete competing in canoe slalom in Tokyo next year. Over to you, Christos Tsakmakis!