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Battling economic odds to prepare for Games

other Updated: Jul 20, 2012 01:05 IST

With one hurdle left, something snapped. It wasn’t a bone or anything that serious, but Greek athlete Periklis Iakovakis somehow lost power and quickly dropped from first to last in the European Championship 400-meter hurdles final, unable to summon enough energy to keep going strong.

It’s that kind of an Olympic year for athletes from crisis-hit European nations preparing for the London Games — always another obstacle.

“Of course, the crisis affects you because the world of sports is part of society,” Iakovakis said. “If you consider I have a family and I have two children, everything is inside my mind because I also have to think of the future.”

Europe has long been the cradle and the bedrock of the Olympic movement, a wealthy continent that staged games at will. But eight years after organizing the Athens Games, Greece is so cash-strapped that it is struggling to send its athletes fully prepared.

“Now I have to search the Internet to find the best flight, the best fare option depending on the dates I want to travel,” said the 33-year-old Iakovakis, who won the 400-meter hurdles bronze medal at the 2003 world championships and gold at the 2006 European Championships.

The financial crisis has specifically affected the Mediterranean rim.

Italy, which bitterly fought with Athens to bring the games to Rome in 2004, is in such dire straits that the capital city dropped its bid for the 2020 Olympics after Premier Mario Monti said the government could not back its estimated $12.5 billion cost.

In Estonia, defending Olympic discus champion Gerd Kanter is worrying about sponsorship further dwindling and is seeking to survive on little money. In France, pole vaulter Vanessa Boslak is seeing early retirements among her fellow athletes because, after all, people have to find a job for the rest of their lives.

The last time such a financial shock ripped through Europe’s sporting world was when the Soviet empire fell more than two decades ago.

IOC president Jacques Rogge was head of the European national Olympic committees at the time and remembers how national pride saved the day for sports. Italian Olympic committee president Giovanni Petrucci is hoping to prove that in London, no matter the financial conditions back home. “If we lose, it’s not because of the money,” he said.