As Miltiadis Tentoglou landed in the sandpit during his sixth and last jump in the men’s long jump finals at the Tokyo Olympics, he was unsure if his spectacular jump was enough for him to place on the podium.
“It felt like a century to me,” George Pomaski, Tentoglou’s coach, told Neos Kosmos.
Pomaski stood in the stands, along with members of the Greek national team and the Greek Olympic Committee awaiting the long jumper’s results.
“When Miltiadis landed, I was sure it was a good jump,” Pomaski said.
The ‘jumping master’ has over 45 years of experience in the field. He has seen thousands of athletes land in the sandpit and after watching Tentoglou’s jump, he was sure his eyes had not failed him and that his athlete’s sixth attempt secured a medal.
The board finally showed 8.41m, and despite his opponents having jumped the same length, his overall performance attempts outweighed them. And so the cheering of Greeks across the world ensued.
Pomaski is no strange to the Olympic Games and World Championships having collaborated with some of Greece’s greatest national successes; Niki Xanthou, Olga Vasdeki, Lambros Papakostas, Voula Tsiamita Tsatoumas, Spyros Vasdekis, Voula Patoulidou, Costas Zalagitis and Voula Papachristou.
He also had a stint coaching Olympiacos from 2000 to 2002, and in 2017 he was honored by the European Athletics Federation with the coaching award, the organisation’s highest distinction. In 2019 Pomaski was lauded as the top Greek track and field coach.
While he has many accolades to be proud of, he always felt there was on thing missing, until it wasn’t; a gold medal won by his mentee Tentoglou.
“That is all I did not have,” Pomaski said.
Pomaski, an athlete himself in the past, became closely associated with Greece after meeting a Greek student in Bulgaria who would later become his wife, Eva Nikolaou. In the late 80s they moved permanently to Greece.
While the coach has brought Greece much success, he does not shy away from calling things as they are. At every opportunity he will talk about the facilities in Greece that have been left untended, the difficult training conditions for athletes, promises of policies that were not fulfilled, the support – financial and moral – that did not come when needed, the coaches who left the field due to lack of resources, but also respect, leaving an unfilled gap of experience.
His constant anxiety is: “What will we leave to the next generation”.
The gold medal of Miltiadis Tentoglou seems to have come in the most stubborn of times. Politicians may now be more exposed to public opinion to deliver on their promises.
“We all have a job that needs to be done as best we can,” Pomaski said.
“I keep pushing and fighting for better conditions. If we have the conditions, we will have the results. The key is the facilities… They are not currently at the level they should be. We left a lot of things to the passage of time.”
As for the coaches who left, he said “it is very difficult for a coach to ‘grow’. An athlete in three, four years can be at a very good level. The coach needs experience. It takes years. They want to deal with two to three generations [of athletes] in order to be fully effective.”
Pomaski stresses that “a stadium must be full of a good level of coaches and athletes”.
Greece, Pomaski said, could take advantage of the climate, which is the best in Europe, to become a centre of sports tourism and benefit the economy, stadiums, hotels, local communities, even souvlaki restaurants.
“Who has come to Greece and not eaten a souvlaki? Why stop? Because we did not improve a stadium?”
He stressed that “knowledge, experience, facilities, must be at a very high level. Do not let the next generation start from scratch again. I was helped by coaches who already had 30 to 40 years of experience”.
Inevitably the discussion turns to Miltiadis Tentoglou.
“He has taken it all,” Pomaski said.
Tentoglou is still very young at only 23 years old. What motivation could he possibly have to continue his efforts, especially when the conditions in Greece do not help.
“The only, best thing is a second gold at the Olympics,” Pomaski answered with a smile.
As for Tentoglou’s golden final jump, where the pressure had peaked, his coach said: “It’s very difficult. Few athletes can work at such a critical point to the best of their ability and very accurately… Miltiadis is extremely good.”
Is it training? Is it luck?
“Ninety-nine percent is his intellect. Some children are born with some gifts. He is very charismatic. His dexterity is at a very high level. He is always calm.”
As social media and technology dominate many industries, Pomaski has some initial concerns about Tentoglou’s use of it all.
“Miltiadis is very active in it all [social media] and I had some reservations,” Pomaski said.
“Now I no longer have this phobia, because Miltiadi used it for his own benefit and to improve.”
In addition to the gold medal, Pomaski will remember the Tokyo Olympics for its unprecedented agony off the field.
“We did a test every day [for COVID-19]. My first fear was that an athlete would come back positive and we would have to leave. Five years of training would go to waste. With each daily test, our anxiety would shoot up. We had some gatherings and I told the athletes: ‘We as coached will not relax until you enter the last call room (pre-match holding area). From there on out we will be calmer.”
He described the Tokyo Games as the “Athlete and Coach Olympiad” as there was no support from fans in the stadiums due to COVID-19 safety measures.
Greeks everywhere, however, shared the joy and were proud of the coach’s and athlete’s success.
“There is no stadium, no road that we have walked on in our National uniforms where we have not found ‘Greece’ somewhere. Wherever we are, there will always be someone. Greeks are such warm people; they immediately approach us [and say] ‘well done guys’. It is very moving… to always feel, in any place, that the Greek Diaspora exists… I have no words to describe this feeling,” Pomaski said.
While winning the gold was one of the pinnacles of both Tentoglou’s and Pomaski’s careers, it could not have been achieved without approaching training with a holistic plan.
“A law for elite sports is that along with muscle development, if mental and emotional development is not developed, there is no progress. Miltiadis has made tremendous progress,” Pomaski said.
He spoke of an athlete with sensitivities, who “distributes his clothes and shoes to children”.
“He is very honest and fair. And he goes crazy if something is not aligned with his values. He has a strong personality; it is a joy, it is a dream of every coach to have such a person around.”
Pomaski also reflects on his time coaching football at Olympiacos for two years. Perhaps the most startling difference between the track and the football field is the financial payout.
“The difference is huge. I gave everything on the track and everything I got was from football…. Everything my family has is from football,” he said.
The only question left now is if we see Pomaski in Brisbane, at the 2032 Olympics?
“I wish I could, but I’m already 61 and that’s another 11 years…it’s difficult,” he said.
“I will fight to the end, it’s the only sure thing.”