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Road to Rio: In Honor of my Sister

Greece’s Sofia Bekatorou's success includes 4 World Championship titles and 2 Olympic medals, but success is not without sacrifice.

July 18, 2016
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Greece’s Sofia Bekatorou has had many great moments in sailing. A career spanning more than 20 years has resulted in four World Championship titles, two Olympic medals and two World Sailor of the Year awards.

This success is not without sacrifice. Weeks and months away from home, serious injuries and extreme physical and mental tests are common in sailing but her hardest Olympic race yet will be at Rio 2016.

Sofia’s sister, Dr. Varia Bekatorou, was diagnosed with a Grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme – a malignant brain tumor – in June 2015 and underwent chemotherapy. Varia, Sofia’s elder sister by seven years, lived in Munich up to December 2015 until her deteriorating condition resulted in Sofia bringing her back to her native Greece.

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Sofia remained by Varia’s side throughout her time in Greece but in April, Varia passed away peacefully with all of her loved ones by her side.

It would have been easy for Sofia to step away from her Rio 2016 Nacra 17 Olympic campaign with Michalis Pateniotis but her steely determination remained.

“During this campaign we have suffered from many personal difficulties and problems,” explained Bekatorou. “The past year I lost my sister and I think that was a very dominant feeling that I had all this time. The reason that I’m not giving up is because first I would like to fight in the honour of my sister and second is because all of these people who have helped and all of these athletes and coaches that invested in our team, I believe deserve to get the best out of it.

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“It will be an honour to represent Greece this time. It’s going to be my fourth Olympics as an athlete and fifth in general. We will try and do the best we can as a team.”

sailing world cup
Sailing World Cup Hyeres 2016 Pedro Martinez/Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Rio 2016 will be an emotional Olympiad for Bekatorou. Varia will be at the forefront of her mind and she will be Greece’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony on 5 August.

“It is a great honour for me, it is a special honour since I am the first female flag bearer for Greece. I have taken part in three Olympics in three different classes and I feel that this is a vindication for my efforts all these years,” Bekatorou said.

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Bekatorou started her Rio 2016 campaign with Konstantinos Trigonis but qualified and will compete in Rio with Pateniotis, a London 2012 49er Olympian. Compared to their rivals, the partnership is relatively new and Bekatorou knows they will have their work cut out, “This Olympic Games will be much harder and the competition level is extremely high,” expressed Bekatorou.

“We are coming together as a young team together. We have been working a lot and have been creating this campaign for three years with Kostas Trigonis and Michalis came on our team in the last three months. I believe that we have an extremely hard task. We are improving every day and I think that will be the race of our lives.”

Sofia Bekatorou is no stranger to tough races. She won gold at Athens 2004 in the Women’s 470 with Emilia Tsoulfa and Yngling bronze with Sofia Papadopoulou and Virginia Kravarioti at Beijing 2008.

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Whilst Athens will forever live in Bekatorou’s memory, the final race of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will go down as her best.

“The most difficult part of that race was that six nations were fighting for the bronze medal,” explained Bekatorou. “We were not among the favourites although we were entering the final race in third.

“That day the wind was extremely strong and my team mates were extremely young and it was the first time they were challenging for an Olympic medal and they were extremely stressed.

“In the morning, we had a very nice chat altogether. I showed them the gold medal from Athens and I was trying to inspire them. I told them that I would fight to the end with them. They were more positive and encouraged.

“During the race we started well but at the top mark, because of the strong current, we touched the mark and had to do a penalty. Immediately my team mates were frozen and I encouraged them to execute the penalty at once. When I looked back to see our opponents I saw that most of the fleet was also stuck at the mark and so, when we completed the 360 we kept on going and stayed and finished in third place. I think that during that moment we were a little bit lucky but at the same time, taking an immediate decision helped a lot.

“I am very proud because with Emilia we had been working for eight years and it was a very long campaign. With those younger sailors we managed, in three years, to win a bronze medal.

“Passing this experience to the next generation was a big achievement, especially in a class which I didn’t have much experience.”

Bekatorou continues to inspire and is a role model for any young sportsperson coming up through the ranks. Overcoming her personal difficulties has been one of the Greek sailor’s biggest hurdles for Rio 2016 but whatever the result her family will remain proud of what she has achieved.

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