Athens lawyer to run in Rio

Michalis Kalomiris has un­ex­pect­edly qual­i­fied for the marathon at the sum­mer Olympics

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIANNIS PAPADOPOULOS

He couldn’t be­lieve his eyes. He looked at the list again to make sure he wasn’t mis­taken. But there it was, his name among the run­ners who qual­i­fied for the marathon at the Rio Olympics this sum­mer.

It was early May when lawyer Michalis Kalomiris saw this un­ex­pected piece of news while read­ing a web­site ded­i­cated to ath­let­ics. He had worked hard in the pre­ced­ing months to im­prove his per­for­mance by squeez­ing in train­ing ses­sions be­fore and af­ter work, but he did not ex­pect to qual­ify for the Olympics – par­tic­u­larly as his time was nearly 10 min­utes slower than that needed to pass.

With­out re­al­iz­ing, the 30-year-old had in fact qual­i­fied for the Games in March 2015, when he ran the Rome Marathon in 2 hours and 29 min­utes. The limit for men in the Olympics is sup­posed to be 2 hours and 19 min­utes, but the reg­u­la­tions of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ath­letic Fed­er­a­tions (IAAF) state that an ath­lete qual­i­fies re­gard­less of tim­ing if they fin­ish in the top 10 of a Gold La­bel event. The Rome Marathon last year was one such event as it met the IAAF cri­te­ria for the Gold La­bel, in­clud­ing hav­ing at least five elite men and five elite women of four dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties at the start­ing line. Elite men are those with times of 2 hours and 10 min­utes or un­der and women with 2:28:00.

“The con­di­tions were very tough, with con­stant rain and cold,” re­mem­bers Kalomiris about the race in the Ital­ian cap­i­tal. “Better ath­letes in the race de­cided to give up.”

When the news of Kalomiris’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion fi­nally emerged, a small war broke out in the Greek run­ning com­mu­nity on so­cial me­dia. Some thought the de­ci­sion un­fair, ar­gu­ing that there are faster marathon­ers in Greece (Kalomiris fin­ished fifth in the Na­tional Marathon Cham­pi­onship). Oth­ers ex­pressed sup­port, view­ing his qual­i­fi­ca­tion as a vic­tory for all am­a­teur run­ners.

Kalomiris says he is an “am­a­teur train­ing at sub-elite level.” For the past four years, he has been work­ing at a le­gal firm in Athens, run­ning at a sports cen­ter in the sub­urb of Ae­ga­leo af­ter work or wak­ing up early in the morn­ing to get some early train­ing in. He runs in dif­fer­ent parts of the cap­i­tal on the week­ends, choos­ing routes in ar­eas such as Anavryta and Filothei. De­pend­ing on where he is in his train­ing reg­i­men, he will cover between 110 and 200 kilo­me­ters a week. When he has a court ap­pear­ance out­side Athens, he al­ways takes his run- ning shoes along. “When you re­ally like some­thing a lot, you find a way of fit­ting it into your life,” he tells Kathimerini.

Kalomiris’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion comes at a time when run­ning is en­joy­ing par­tic­u­lar pop­u­lar­ity in Greece and am­a­teur races have in­creased six­fold in 10 years. In 2005, the Athens Marathon had around 800 Greek run­ners; last year, there were 7,500 at the start­ing line. Kalomiris’s fa­ther was the pres­i­dent of the Run for Health As­so­ci­a­tion of Athens (SDYA), a pi­o­neer in mass sports that also sup­ported the Athens Marathon back when it was sparsely at­tended. Kalomiris started run­ning at a young age but went though a four-year lull be­fore re­turn­ing to vig­or­ous train­ing in 2012. “I had toned down the pace and in­ten­sity of my life. I was sort of run­down,” he ex­plains.

The other Greeks run­ning in the Rio Games marathon this Au­gust are Sofia Riga, Ra­nia Rem­pouli and Pana­giota Vlachaki among the women, and, among the men, Christo­foros Mer­ousis (ev­ery coun­try can send up to three run­ners in each cat­e­gory).

Kalomiris is now in Karpenisi, cen­tral Greece, where he is fo­cus­ing on his train­ing. “When I asked if I could take three months off at the of­fice, they were ready to sup­port me. It was very im­por­tant be­cause it spared me the anx­i­ety that I was let­ting them down,” he says.

Kalomiris’s per­for­mance does not match that of pro­fes­sional run­ners. The fastest to qual­ify for the Rio Olympics is a run­ner from Kenya with a time of 2:03:05. For the lawyer from western At­tica, though, what counts is “the dream of par­tic­i­pa­tion” and the ef­fort for im­prove­ment.

“I would like to think that this story makes ev­ery­one in­volved in run­ning be­lieve more in them­selves and keep up the ef­fort,” he says.

Michalis Kalomiris is seen cross­ing the fin­ish line of the Athens Marathon at the Pana­thenaic Sta­dium last year.

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