Teenaged Greek pole vaulter Emmanuel Karalis is determined to scale new heights, despite the negative impact of the nation’s financial crisis on sport.
Fresh from breaking the world youth record — a mark which had stood for 12 years — this month, the 16-year-old is being hailed as a future star of Greek athletics.
With his leap of 5.53m at the National Indoor Championships in Piraeus, Greece, Karalis finished third behind Greek champion Kostas Filippidis, eclipsing the 2004 record of 5.51m set by Argentine German Chiaraviglio.
However, rather than bask in the glory of his feat, Karalis, who received his first pair of spikes from Filippidis, is not resting on his laurels.
“For a kid my age, what I have achieved is huge, but to be honest, I feel like now my career is starting; this is the platform I can use to train harder and improve,” he said.
Many of Greece’s athletes, especially at youth level, are suffering from funding cuts made by the government due to austerity measures prompted by the financial crisis.
The state’s budget for the Greek Athletics Federation has been slashed from 8.2 million euros (US$9.05 million, at current exchange rates) in 2010 to 2.8 million this year, and athletes going to the Rio Olympics are to rely on the International Olympic Committee’s solidarity fund for support, just as they did in 2012.
“Look, there is no hiding how difficult it is,” Karalis said. “The facilities at OAKA [Olympic Athletic Center of Athens] are not the best and many athletes struggle to get by, but I am not here to complain.”
“I decided to be philosophical about it. I will work with whatever I have; if I had to train on the street, then I would do it without complaint,” he added.
Karalis, whose father was a former Greek decathlete and mother was a former Ugandan long jumper, was seemingly destined for track and field from birth.
“My parents took me to OAKA in the baby stroller while they trained, so from the moment I was born, athletics has been part of my life,” Karalis said.
“I tried lots of sports when I was a kid, from swimming to basketball and taekwondo, but when I tried the decathlon and the first event I did was the pole vault, I just seemed to have a knack for it and loved it from the first moment — I have not looked back since,” he added.
Now favorite for the European Junior Outdoor Championships this summer in Tbilisi, Karalis, who cites Ukrainian pole vault great Sergey Bubka as his role model, is also targeting the 2020 Olympics.
“When we were at the World Championships in Colombia last summer, he [Bubka] told me what a positive attitude I had and that I will go very far. It is an amazing feeling to hear that from someone you idolize. I think for every athlete, it is a dream to go the Olympics and it is definitely one of mine. I do not know if I will make it for 2020, but the Olympics is in my sights for sure,” Karalis said.