Greek weightlifter Theodoros Iakovidis announced his retirement from the sport on Saturday after failing to qualify for the finals in weightlifting at the Tokyo Olympics.
Iakovidis has had a successful career in the sport. He came first at the 2018 Mediterranean Games, took silver at the 2020 IWF World Cup, and participated in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
In an emotional statement to the press after failing to qualify for the finals, Iakovidis expressed the difficulty of training and preparing for the sport with very little financial support from the state or from sponsors.
He revealed that he was paid only 200 euros a month from the Hellenic Weightlifting Federation while he was training, and he often couldn’t afford gas and had to go to practice on foot.
Iakovidis breaks down, reveals financial, emotional difficulties of professional sport
“I’m sorry that my voice is trembling, but these are my last moments on the National Team,” the weightlifter stated.
“My performance does not reflect an effort of 100%. I faced a few problems with injuries after the European Championships during the period from April through May.”
The Greek athlete also revealed that he arrived at the Olympics after only a short period of intense training: “I arrived at the Olympics with only one month’s preparation and training, and I lifted more kilograms than I had during my last training session and I can’t complain. We chose to enter into a challenge that required more than our capabilities.”
Breaking down, Iakovidis revealed how difficult it was to prepare for the Olympics with very little financial stability, and suggested that more support would have allowed him to better perform and prepare for the Olympics.
“I’m not crying out of sadness, because I seemingly didn’t perform well. I’m crying because its all finished. Unfortunately, I can’t perform at my 100% and have my head calm enough to train and be able to give out what is worthy of the flag that I wear.”
“Sorry if to some people it seems like I’m just running away from it all, but I have become really tired and I can’t take this situation anymore. It’s very sad to be embarrassed to go to the physical therapist because he won’t take your money because he knows that you don’t have enough. I can’t take it. I want to calm down and return to my family, to hug them and thank them,” the athlete expressed.
After his emotional statement to the press, Iakovidis received an outpouring of support from the Greek public and a number of prominent athletes in the country.
Greek athletes speak out in support of weightlifter
Pyrros Dimas, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist for Greece and General Secretary of the Hellenic Weightlifting Federation, spoke out in support of Iakovidis on Friday night, and expressed his own responsibility for the difficult circumstances that athletes face.
“I’m part of the world of Greek athletics and I take responsibility for my part in Theodoros Iakovidis’ tears in Tokyo,” he wrote on his social media accounts. He went on to argue that the country’s ongoing financial crisis, which began in 2008, has made the financial situation for Greek athletes extremely difficult.
He did not, however, lay the blame entirely on the country’s economic situation.
“I believe that Iakovidis’s story is, in a way, the same story of all the difficulties we have gone through in the past ten years. I made many mistakes, but anyone who tries to do something will also make mistakes. My responsibilities are great. Now, they are even greater.”
“Forgive me Theodoros. We need to try harder. For Iakovidis and every Iakovidis,” the legendary Greek weightlifter stated.
World-renowned Greek athletes like Lefteris Petrounias, Greek gymnast known as the “Lord of the Rings,” and the Antetokounmpo brothers, NBA champions, also expressed their support for Iakovidis.
Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who returned to Greece on Sunday after winning the NBA Finals, were asked about the Olympian’s statement during a press conference.
The brothers, who did not have an easy road to the NBA, expressed their solidarity with the Greek weightlifter.
“We need to say a huge ‘I’m sorry’ to Theodoros. Not only to him, but to everyone. He can’t pick up all of that weight on his own. We are all with himm” Thanasis stated.
His brother Giannis went on to say: “To be at the top level is difficult. Now that we brought the (NBA Finals) trophy here we are happy, but when I was injured in Milwaukee, I was on my own. It is a difficulty that you go through as a professional athlete. Many people don’t talk about it, because they all say ‘Come on, you make so many millions, shut up.’”
“I’m happy he spoke out and that he cried. I know how hard it is to go through what he’s going through. I don’t know Theodoros Iakovidis personally, but we talked a little bit on Instagram. I’m with him,” the Greek Freak stated.
Petrounias, one of the best male gymnasts in the world, posted a picture of Iakovidis on his Instagram story with the words “Move forward with the strength of your spirit, without expecting anything from anyone.”