ATHENS, Greece -- Greeks gloried in the first gold medal of their hometown Olympics -- a surprise win in men's synchronized diving that gave a nation disillusioned by a doping scandal a reason to revel.
Nikolaos Siranidis and Thomas Bimis pulled off an upset in
Monday night's 3-meter springboard event, executing a killer final
dive that topped the German and Australian duos and ignited a party
complete with song and dance at the Olympic diving center.
"I still can't believe it," Siranidis said. "It feels like a
fairy tale. It's hard for me to speak."
Fairy tale? No. Miracle? Not quite. That gold-medal final dive -- a well-executed inward 3½ somersault tuck -- followed a wild series of twists and turns that ended badly for the Greeks' opponents.
First, the favored Chinese team blew a 12-point lead on a
disastrous final plunge in which Wang Kenan entered the water in a
total flop. The landing was so bad that the dive earned no points
and dropped Wang and Peng Bo into last place. It was a sharp
turnaround from the first three synchronized events, each of which
was won by China.
Then Russians Dmitry Sautin and Alexander Dobroskok botched their attempt when Sautin knocked the diving board on his way down, followed by a terrible landing from American brothers Justin and Troy Dumais, who entered the final round in second place only to finish a distant sixth. Sautin and Dobroskok finished seventh.
Lao Lishi and Li Ting of China easily won the women's 10-meter platform competition earlier Monday.
With a total of 352.14 points, Lao and Li added to their title
from the world championships in Barcelona last year. Natalia
Goncharova and Yulia Koltunova of Russia won the silver with
340.92, and Blythe Hartley and Emilie Heymans of Canada took the
bronze at 327.78.
But it was the men's competition that cornered the market on
Bimis said he didn't mind the fan intruder who climbed up onto an adjacent board wearing a tutu and extra-large clown shoes and plunged into the water before Germany's next-to-last dive. He
considered it a good omen because it also happened at the European
soccer championships last month, when Greece pulled off another
The Greek divers earned a final-round score of 83.64 and
finished with 353.34 points. Andreas Wels and Tobias Schellenberg
of Germany won the silver medal with 350.01, and Robert Newbery and Steven Barnett of Australia took the bronze with 349.59.
When the results became official, traditional Greek music echoed through the venue and the dancing started. Siranidis and Bimis jumped onto a practice board, and after a slight slip -- the first
time they stumbled all night -- they waved a Greek flag up and down
and encouraged the raucous local fans.
The celebration continued right up until the Greek national
anthem was played and the medals were presented, with chants of
"Hellas" -- as the country is called in Greek -- and more dancing
as the music slowed down. A slow, clapping rhythm took over before
the beat picked up and reached its ear-splitting peak again.
"We are a nation with heart," Greek coach Peter Firigos said.
Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis said the victory "proved that Greek sports has depth and future."
Australia's Newbery called it "a bizarre final round," but
said he was touched to witness the first Greek gold at Athens.
"I think we're both dumbfounded by the way the competition
turned out," he said, sitting with partner Barnett. "Isn't it
special that those guys got up in front of their home crowd and won
a gold medal?"
Bimis said he doesn't want the feeling to end.
"We hope this is just the start," he said, "and there are
Greeks have been in a funk since star sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were suspended from the games for missing a doping test. Kenteris and Thanou have been hospitalized with injuries suffered last week in a motorcycle crash that happened
after the International Olympic Committee tried to track them down
to test them.