July 26, 2012
Papachristou: Olympic exclusion excessive
By GRAHAM WOOD, REUTERS
ATHENS - Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was sleepless, bitter about her exclusion from the Olympic Games and felt the punishment was excessive, she told Reuters on Thursday.
Papachristou was withdrawn from Greece's team two days before the opening ceremony after the country's Olympic Committee said her comments on her Twitter account about West Nile virus and the number of Africans in Greece were against the Olympic spirit.
"I have not slept at all and to be honest I am still trying to come to terms with what has happened," the Athens-born athlete told Reuters in an interview. "I am trying to stay calm otherwise I would lose control.
"I am thankful to my coach and family and so many other people who have stuck by me."
Papachristou, who apologised on Wednesday for the offending tweet, said her main emotion was bitterness over her punishment, which she considered excessive.
"After so many years of hurt and sacrifices to try and get to my first Olympics I am very bitter and upset. But what has upset me the most is the excessive reaction and speed of the disciplinary decision," she said.
The 23-year-old, a blonde-haired athlete who sports a navel piercing and is a popular figure in Greece, was scheduled to leave for her first Olympics next week.
She was a long shot for a medal with a season's best of 14.58 metres, almost half a metre behind the world leaders.
"I don't know if they want to make an example out of me because of my profile, this is for others to judge, but what I believe is that they used their maximum disciplinary power on me for this," said Papachristou.
"They went straight to the final stage in excluding me from the team which was highly excessive."
In the offending tweet on Monday, she wrote: "With so many Africans in Greece... the West Nile mosquitoes will at least eat homemade food!!!"
Leftist political parties demanded her withdrawal from the team and critics were also quick to point out she had reposted a tweet by Ilias Kasidiaris, a politician with the far-right Golden Dawn party, criticising Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's stance on immigration.
She also tweeted Kasidiaris, who shocked the country when he slapped a female leftist politician on live television, to wish him well on his patron saint day, in a message she later deleted.
Golden Dawn condemned her punishment earlier on Thursday 1/8IDn:6E8IQ4KM 3/8 though Papachristou denied any political connections and said the offending tweet was a joke in bad taste.
"I have never got involved with politics," she said.
"As I stated in my apologies, it was a joke in bad taste which was being shared around by everyone and I didn't expect my re-tweeting it to cause problems.
"I never wanted to create an issue or offend anyone as I don't have that way of thinking or acting."
But she lashed out at her official critics, saying the cash-strapped Greek state offered athletes no support, forcing them to train in harsh conditions.
"We have zero support from the state," she said. "There are a lot of things that people do not know about, such as the unacceptable conditions in which we have to train.
"For example, there is no heating and no hot water even to take a shower in winter, no air conditioning in the summer and squalid training facilities and equipment in a state of disrepair.
"These are just the tip of the iceberg without mentioning the financial side and how we have been affected by massive cuts in state-funding for sport," she said.
Despite her bitterness, Papachristou said she intended to fully respect the decision and that the experience made her more determined to do well.
"The only thing I know is to compete in athletics and the best of my ability and that has been shown in my performances so far in my career.
"I believe I am a good, kind and also strong character. I will get over this and give my answers in my future performances. That is all I want to say on that."
And she had no hard feelings for her team mates who would compete in the Olympics, she said.
"I wish the very best to all my fellow athletes in the Greek team, I hope each and every one can give their best and show that the Greek spirit has no limits," she added.