Greek shooter ready to tell youngsters at Buenos Aires 2018 how she transformed her Nanjing 2014 despair into two medals at Rio 2016.
If a young athlete feels their world is crashing down after a near-miss or outright “disaster” at next year's Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, they would do well to look out for Anna Korakaki. The Greek shooter, who will be an Athlete Role Model (ARM) at Buenos Aires 2018, knows all about that pain – and, crucially, how to turn it into Olympic gold.
After finishing fourth in the 10m air pistol event at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games, Korakaki was inconsolable. Two years later in Rio de Janeiro, she became become the first Greek woman to win two Olympic medals at the same Games.
“My disappointment in Nanjing was… I don’t have words to describe it. Even now, when I have won two Olympic medals in the ‘big’ Games, I still remember that feeling. It’s still fresh,” the 21-year-old told olympic.org.
It was an Athlete Role Model who helped lift Korakaki out of her gloom in Nanjing, although in the moments after she had just missed out on a medal, the words did not sink in.
“She was a rifle shooter (Serbia’s Ivana Maksimovic), and she came to me right after the final, when I was sad and almost burst into tears,” said Korakaki. “She said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re such a big talent and you’re going to make it to the big Olympics, I am sure. Just believe it and work for it.’
“In that moment, when it was so fresh, I said, ‘Thank you, you are very supportive,’ but I thought they were just words of comfort, nothing more, and I didn’t believe it. I thought: if I didn’t even make it here, how will I make it in two years in the big Games?
“Two years later, I had two medals from my first Olympic Games around my neck.
“I still think about it sometimes. When I left Nanjing, on the plane, I thought to myself, ‘yeah, she’s right.’
“So I think I can really motivate the athletes who don’t make the podium (in Buenos Aires). For them, it’s really a disaster, and at those ages, they are so sensitive. I will really know how they feel, and I will know how to bring them back onto the right mental path. I will be like a living example to them.”
Korakaki, who took gold in the 25m pistol and bronze in the 10m air pistol in Rio, said her first reaction when she was invited to be an ARM was “wow”. She knows how influential the role can be, and she understands how the Youth Olympic Games can prepare athletes for the biggest stage of all.
“Nanjing was the first time I saw something like that – the Olympic Village, everything was like the ‘real’ Games, so I was a bit shocked. The facilities, the venues, the restaurants. My mind was a bit lost.
One of the biggest pieces of advice Korakaki would give to athletes preparing for Buenos Aires 2018 is to consider carefully what they expose themselves to in today’s non-stop digital world.
“I would say that for one month before the Games they shouldn’t really follow what’s written about them in their countries and on the sports sites, as it creates a lot of pressure.
“I have the same opinion on social media. Six months before Rio I deleted my Facebook account, and three months before I stopped using Instagram. Facebook, Twitter and so on can cause problems, as you may see something that hurts you, that makes you sad or upset.
“Maybe you will scroll down and see a picture of your ex with someone else, and that will upset you. Adults cannot handle this sometimes, so imagine what it’s like for teenagers.”
Korakaki is studying at university to be a specialist teacher for people with a disability, and she seems to possess an instinct to help people achieve their potential. She is not even worried about the possibility that she could mentor an athlete in Buenos Aires who goes on to rival her for a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“I would be delighted if I knew that I had even a tiny part in their success,” she said. “It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. I would cry.”