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A student of Ship Science at the University of Southampton, Cypriot sailor Pavlos Kontides had planned to set up his own boat building company and design boats for an America’s Cup team. One thing he did not envisage along the way, however, was becoming a national hero. Kontides’ life changed tack at London 2012, when he won Laser silver behind Australia’s Tom Slingsby, giving Cyprus its first ever Olympic medal. That landmark achievement is one he is now looking to improve upon by going for gold at Rio 2016.
Born on 11 February 1990 in Limassol, Kontides began his sailing career in an Optimist at the age of nine, under the watchful eye of his father, Dr Panayiotis Kontides, a yachting champion and former president of the Cypriot Sailing Federation. In later years, Kontides, who stands 1.83m tall and weighs 82kg, switched to the Olympic Laser class and achieved the unique feat of winning back-to-back ISAF Youth World Championship titles in 2007 and 2008. His Olympic debut came while he was still a teenager, at Beijing 2008, where he finished 13th.
Making his way on the international stage, the young Cypriot won an Olympic solidarity scholarship and put his studies on hold to devote himself entirely to preparing for London 2012.
His hard work paid off on the waters of Weymouth Bay. After winning Races 3 and 4 and finishing second in Race 5, he moved into the lead in the Laser standings, with Slingsby just behind him. The duo battled it out for gold in the closing races, with the Australian sealing top spot on the podium in the Medal Race, finishing with a total of 43 points to the Cypriot’s 59.
“It is really amazing,” he said after landing his country’s first medal since its Games debut at Moscow 1980. “For me and my country, it is a historic day. I suspect my name will be written in golden letters in Cyprus. I still don’t realise what I have done for myself, and when I return to my country on Thursday and people are cheering for me I will start to realise the level of achievement.”
And cheer they did, affording Kontides a hero’s return to his native Limassol. “I hope my success will serve as a springboard for young people to embrace sport and in particular sailing,” he said, soaking up the adulation of his compatriots. “I am overwhelmed with emotion, words cannot express how I feel. I would like to thank everyone who has stood by me all these years.”
An ambassador for sailing on his home island, Kontides has stayed at the forefront of his sport since the London Games, finishing second at the 2013 World Championships in Musannah (OMA), second again in the final of the ISAF World Cup in Abu Dhabi in September 2015, and third at the Split Olympic Sailing Week in Croatia this April.
With his exploits, the Cypriot is almost single-handedly driving the development of sailing in his country, with the number of people holding licences rising by more than 25 percent to 400 since he won his Olympic silver, prompting Yiannos Photiou, president of the Cyprus Sailing Federation, to comment: “Pavlos has become the role model for many young sailors.”
The pioneering Cypriot has only one objective in mind in Rio: “Any medal would make me happy, but I am aiming for that gold.”
A one-design class of dinghy, Laser will attract the largest field of all the sailing events at Rio 2016, with 46 competitors taking to the start line.
The fight for the medals promises to be intense, especially with Brazil’s Robert Scheidt having returned to the Laser fold. The Olympic champion in the class at Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004 and a silver medallist at Sydney 2000, Scheidt then competed in Star for eight years before moving back to Laser in 2013. The celebrated Brazilian is now aiming to become the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time.
Reigning two-time world champion Nick Thompson of Great Britain will also be vying for Olympic glory, as will Germany’s Philipp Bruhl and Croatia’s Tonci Stipanovic, respectively first and second in the world rankings. Italy’s Francesco Marrai will also fancy his chances, having won last year’s Olympic test event.