Iannou's family keeps vigil in hospital

Updated: August 14, 2004, 11:41 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- With only a week to go before the games begin, Eleni Iannou was fighting for her life instead of perfecting her moves as a promising young member of the Greek Olympic judo team.

Her family sobbed and kept vigil outside her room in the intensive care unit of Red Cross Hospital, where she was taken Saturday after falling from the third-floor balcony of her apartment. Police said she had argued with her boyfriend just before it happened.

The fall left the 20-year-old on life-support, with multiple fractures to her head and body. She was critical but stable after several hours of surgery, according to a doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Her friends and family didn't want to talk about her; her colleagues in sport were hopeful.

"It's a miracle she's alive," Ioannou's coach, Giorgos Bountakis, said outside the hospital Sunday. "The doctors are not expecting anything positive. I hope she also wins this fight."

Ioanno was competing in the 78-kg-plus category and planned to moved into the Olympic Village with the rest of the team Wednesday, two days before opening ceremony.

At some point during or after the argument, she fell from the balcony. The reasons remain unclear and an investigation continues. Police questioned her boyfriend, who called for an ambulance, but later released him.

Yiannis Papadoyiannakis, head of the Greek team, said her injury had "brought a sadness" and "cast a shadow" over the athletes.

"We will do everything to keep the team calm," Papadoyiannakis added. "If her condition improves, it will obviously improve the climate in the team."

Ioannou, a student at the Athens Gymnastics Academy, was a promising athlete in judo, a sport which has only recently gained popularity in Greece.

With only four years' experience, she had won three national championships and a bronze medal in 1992 in the Balkan championships.

"She knew what she wanted from life and she loved judo more than anything else," Bountakis said after visiting her.

The Greek Olympic Committee replaced Ioannou with 33-year-old Eleni Patsiou, though she's not sure she'll accept the spot.

"Such a proposal under these conditions does not excite me at all," Patsiou said. "Under different circumstances, I would be jumping from joy -- but not at a time like this, since Eleni is my friend and I know that she is going through critical times."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press