In the popular imagination, superman normally flies out of a booth, but in Sydney next weekend, it will be a case of superman flying into a booth … a booth at the Sydney Fitness and Health Expo.
It’s Superman in the guise of Greek Olympic weightlifting legend Valerios Leonidis, who arrives from Greece this weekend to appear at the UESAKA booth at the Expo from 16-18 October.
The 49-year-old head coach of the Greek national weightlifting team will also be presenting workshops in the city for which he retains fond memories.
Valerios last visited Sydney in 2000 as part of the Greek Olympic weightlifting team when he competed well despite being hampered by injuries.
“I really like Australia as a country and the people,” he told Neos Kosmos. “I would have loved to come more often but the distance is great. I look forward to catching up with friends.”
Four years prior to those games, Leonidis shot to world fame at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics when he and world champion Turkish lifter Naim Suleymanoglu fought a titanic contest for gold, which caught the imagination of not only weightlifting fans, but sporting fans in general. Each man lifted nearly 190kg, almost three times their own body weight, and broke four world records en route to Suleymanoglu narrowly beating Leonidis to the gold medal.
The Russian-born son of Pontic Greek parents grew up living a disciplined life and making many sacrifices in his bid to become an elite weightlifter in the Soviet Union. When the Union collapsed, the system could no longer support his dreams of becoming a champion weightlifter. Valerios migrated to the land of his forefathers, in 1991, to continue to develop in the sport he loves, and competed in his first Olympics for Greece at the Atlanta Games. The epic contest with Naim in Atlanta, seen by a worldwide TV audience, changed his life in many ways, immeasurably raising his public profile and winning him the respect of his countrymen. On his return to Greece he was made an officer in the Greek Navy.
As well as becoming an Olympic silver medallist, he won two silver medals and a bronze for Greece at the World Championships before retiring in 2004. He soon moved into coaching becoming an assistant to head coach of the national team, Christos Iacovou.
When Iacovou was caught up in an infamous doping scandal in 2008, Leonidis became head coach of the national team, a position he holds to the present day.
The doping scandal of 2008 did untold damage to the reputation of the sport of weightlifting in Greece. Anastasios Pappas, a good friend of Leonidis and spokesperson for UESAKA, weights equipment company, says ” young people lose their motivation when they see that things like this happen and of course, after the crisis comes, there is even less motivation because you cannot be a professional athlete”.
Leonidis says that under the current dire financial situation in Greece, it’s impossible to foresee a time when the sport of weightlifting in Greece might once more reach the heights it achieved before the doping scandal.
“The crisis in Greece at present has had a devastating effect on sport and the arts. We can’t plan or foresee anything given the current financial state. We can’t afford the proper preparation of athletes for competition let alone send them to competitions. It’s a very difficult time for athletes. Two or three will go to Houston for the World Weightlifting Championships in November. I can’t even say if we’ll manage to send anyone to the Olympics in Brazil next year.”
Sydney will no doubt be a welcome escape for him from the gloomy scenario back home.
Anastasios Pappas of UESAKA says that Valerios’ workshops will offer people a chance to learn the details of Olympic weightlifting from an experienced coach. This will appeal to not only weightlifters, but to young people involved in strength and conditioning programs like Crossfit, where Olympic weightlifting is a component. They are also hoping to offer a workshop for coaches wanting to know how to prepare athletes for big events.
Leonidis believes that learning correct weightlifting techniques can benefit everyone, not just elite athletes.
“The correct movements of weightlifting are therapeutic. They help develop the right anatomical form of the body. They help correct distribution of weight across the body. Helps the back, joints and shoulders, helps prevent injuries and exercise safely. The skills and techniques are useful to everyone.”
For workshop bookings and further information, contact Martin Harlowe (UESAKA) Ph: 0401 515 550, email: firstname.lastname@example.org