On Saturday, August 11, 2012, Markos Papadatos had the pleasure to speak via phone with a world renowned windsurfer and Greek athlete, the extraordinary Nikos Kaklamanakis. A world champion in the Mistral wind-surfing category, Kaklamanakis was the recipient of the gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as the silver medal in 2004 in the Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Regarding his win of the 1996 Olympic gold medal, he exclaimed, “That was a fantastic experience!” Following his win, he served as flag-bearer for Greece at the 1996 Olympics’ closing ceremony; moreover, he reprised that role at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney where he yet again held the flag for Greece. Serving in the capacity as torch-bearer, Kaklamanakis was the first athlete to enter the Olympic stadium in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics and four years later, he had the distinct honor of lighting the Olympic torch in the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympic Games that were held in his native Greece. “That was an incredible experience. It was a huge reward for me since besides my athletic presence it honored me as a human being,” he stated.
Throughout his tenure in sports, he was a part of five Olympiads, which is an astonishing feature for any contemporary athlete and many media outlets have hailed him as “the son of wind” due to his outstanding sportsmanship. “Preparing for the Olympic Games was a big schooling for me. It afforded me the privilege to learn a lot more about my life and I feel that athletics cultivate humans to a higher level. Not only do they help the body, but the soul as well,” he acknowledged.
Most impressive about Kaklamanakis was that while he was competing in the Athens and the Beijing Olympics, he was the oldest athlete in his category, thus showcasing his longevity in sports. On August of 2009, he won yet another championship gold medal to add to his resume of accomplishments, this time in the raceboard masters competition at the IWA Windsurfing World Championships. “That was a great way to close my career and it was such a beautiful memory,” he admitted.
Despite the harsh economic times that Greece is currently going through, Kaklamanakis hopes to someday open a school in Crete and he hopes to continue to represent Greece in the best way possible.
In 2005, a year following the Athens Olympics, he trained and coached several children between the ages of 13 and 18. Three of these children went on to win world championships and ever since, he noted that they are continuing to do well. “That was a great satisfaction for me and I enjoyed discovering new talents,” he said.
For aspiring windsurfers, Kaklamanakis stated, “Windsurfing is a difficult sport to start, but once you begin it you never want to stop. It’s like an elimination factor: it is tough in the beginning and in the end only the ones that really love it are able to make it through. The balance and technique in the sport is quite challenging, but there is a great deal of strength, dynamics, peace, tranquility and freedom in this sport.”
In this year’s Olympic Games, that were held in London, United Kingdom, Greece earned two bronze medals in judo and women’s rowing respectively. “I was thrilled that Greece won two medals, but at the same time I was disappointed that they did not win any gold ones. I had hoped to hear the Greek national anthem there and I wish our athletes would have won more medals; however, Greece is going through difficult times and what our athletes have accomplished so far has been great,” he said.
In the London Olympics’ sailing category, Byron Kokkalanis came in sixth place and Cyprus’ Pavlos Kontides won the silver medal, thus making it the first-ever Olympic medal for Cyprus. “I am very proud that Kokkalanis is following my footsteps. He is very good and he is the future of windsurfing in Greece,” Kaklamanakis remarked.
“Kontides is also an exceptional athlete and I have had the good fortune to meet both of them. Kontides comes from a small country like Cyprus and his distinction is unbelievable,” he added.
In addition to being a professional athlete, Kaklamanakis was an advisor to the General Secretary of Sports, as well as an athlete Ambassador of the Greek Olympic Committee. “I do not hold these roles anymore since I am travelling a lot and I would like to devote more time to my family,” he said.
He revealed that he is happily married and he is a father to a fourteen-month old daughter. “I do not compete anymore and I am focused on my family. While I was competing, I was a soldier for Greece and I was doing it all the way through. I did not have any weekends or holidays.”
For Kaklamanakis, the word “success” is meaningful to him only when he is able to share it with others.
Kaklamanakis concluded our interview by thanking his Greek-American fans for all of their support; furthermore, he noted that while he was in the 1996 Olympics, he would like to thank the Varlagas, Papas and Vasilakos families in Savannah, Georgia, who had helped him so much with regard to achieving his goal: the coveted Olympic gold medal!
To learn more about Nikos Kaklamanakis, visit his official website.
Photo courtesy of Nikos Kaklamanakis.