In an interview with Markos Papadatos for GreekReporter, Nikos Kaklamanakis, a world champion in the Mistral wind-surfing category, and winner of the gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and silver medal in 2004 at the Athens Games, talked about how tough the sport is and his gratitude to his fans, especially Greek-Americans who supported him.
He said his gold medal win was something he’d never forget. “That was a fantastic experience!” he said. That victory gave him the honor of serving as flag-bearer for Greece at the 1996 closing ceremony, a role he’d reprise at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney where he again held the flag for Greece.
As torch-bearer, Kaklamanakis was the first athlete to enter the Olympic stadium in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics and four years later lit the Olympic torch in the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympic Games. “It was a huge reward for me since besides my athletic presence it honored me as a human being,” he stated.
Throughout his tenure in sports, he was a part of five Olympiads, an astonishing accomplishment for any contemporary athlete and many media outlets have hailed him as “The Son of Wind” due to his outstanding sportsmanship. “Preparing for the Olympic Games was a big schooling for me. It afforded me the privilege to learn a lot more about my life and I feel that athletics cultivate humans to a higher level. Not only do they help the body, but the soul as well,” he acknowledged.
Most impressive about Kaklamanakis was that while he was competing in the Athens and the Beijing Olympics, he was the oldest athlete in his category, showcasing his longevity. On August of 2009, he won yet gold medal, in the raceboard Masters Competition at the IWA Windsurfing World Championships. “That was a great way to close my career and it was such a beautiful memory,” he admitted.
Despite the harsh economic times that Greece is currently going through, Kaklamanakis said he hopes to someday open a school in Crete and continue to represent Greece in the best way possible. In 2005, a year following the Athens Olympics, he trained and coached several children between the ages of 13 and 18. Three of these children went on to win world championships and ever since, he noted, they are continuing to do well. “That was a great satisfaction for me and I enjoyed discovering new talents,” he said.
For aspiring windsurfers, Kaklamanakis stated, “Windsurfing is a difficult sport to start, but once you begin it you never want to stop. It’s like an elimination factor: it is tough in the beginning and in the end only the ones that really love it are able to make it through. The balance and technique in the sport is quite challenging, but there is a great deal of strength, dynamics, peace, tranquility and freedom in this sport.”
In this year’s Olympic Games, that were held in London, Greece earned only two bronze medals, in judo and women’s rowing. “I was thrilled that Greece won two medals, but at the same time I was disappointed that they did not win any gold ones. I had hoped to hear the Greek national anthem there and I wish our athletes would have won more medals; however, Greece is going through difficult times and what our athletes have accomplished so far has been great,” he said.
In the London Olympics’ sailing category, Byron Kokkalanis came in sixth and Cyprus’ Pavlos Kontides won the silver medal, the first-ever Olympic medal for Cyprus. “I am very proud that Kokkalanis is following my footsteps. He is very good and he is the future of windsurfing in Greece,” Kaklamanakis remarked. “Kontides is also an exceptional athlete and I have had the good fortune to meet both of them. Kontides comes from a small country like Cyprus and his distinction is unbelievable,” he added.
Kaklamanakis was an advisor to the General Secretary of Sports, as well as an athlete Ambassador of the Greek Olympic Committee. “I do not hold these roles anymore since I am traveling a lot and I would like to devote more time to my family,” he said. He revealed that he is happily married and father to a 14-month old daughter. “I do not compete anymore and I am focused on my family. While I was competing, I was a soldier for Greece and I was doing it all the way through. I did not have any weekends or holidays.”
For Kaklamanakis, the word “success” is meaningful to him only when he is able to share it with others. Kaklamanakis concluded the interview by thanking his Greek-American fans for their support. He also passed on special thanks for the hospitality he was afforded at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, from Varlagas, Papas and Vasilakos families in Savannah, Georgia. More information is available about him at his official website.