By Doug Williams STAFF WRITER
August 22, 2004
ATHENS, Greece – Impossible was saying goodbye.
Impossible was saying thank you.
Impossible, for Greece, was this ending to a glorious career.
Last night at Nikaia Olympic Weightlifting Hall, Greek superstar Pyrros Dimas came up short in his quest to become the first man to win four consecutive weightlifting gold medals.
He had been the gold standard for his sport, a man whose face is on billboards across this city with his motto, "Impossible is nothing." A man who twice has carried the nation's banner in Opening Ceremonies and took gold in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney. A man the Greeks refer to only as Pyrros – no last name needed.
But on this night – when nearly 5,000 people jammed into this cozy new double-decked building – Pyrros won bronze in the 187-pound class.
But no matter. The people had come to cheer him, and that's what they did.
They waved flags. They sang songs. They chanted his name and applauded his every move. And, when he stood on the podium to receive his bronze medal and his olive wreath, they didn't stop.
For more than four minutes, as he stood with moist eyes and touched his heart in a gesture of appreciation, the Greeks chanted "Pyrros!" and "Hellas!"
Finally, weightlifting officials stepped in to present the silver medal to Andrei Rybakou of Belarus and the gold to George Asanidze of Georgia.
Afterward, Asanidze was asked what it was like to have to wait and watch while the bronze medalist was showered with the kind of cheers athletes only dream of.
"I want to say Pyrros Dimas is not the bronze medal winner," Asanidze said. "He is a three-time Olympic champion."
After the ceremony, after he had climbed into the stands to kiss his wife and three children – then brought the little ones to the medal stand, each clad in a T-shirt with a giant "4" (for a hoped-for fourth gold) – Dimas was appreciative and understanding of his fans' affection.
"The Games are in Greece," he said through an interpreter at a news conference. "The stands are packed by Greeks. They knew what I've been going through with medical problems and surgeries (since Sydney) and in the last few days (an injured wrist that had to be wrapped last night).
"They showed me their love and affection and I dearly thank them for that."
Added Asanidze, explaining the Greeks' relationship with Dimas: "He has an aura around him."
If this sports story had had a perfect ending, of course, it would have been Dimas with the gold around his neck, not bronze.
But on his final try in the clean-and-jerk, in a lift of 457.5 pounds that would have put him in first place, Dimas could not pull off the miracle.
He lifted the bar to his chest but couldn't raise it above his head. He fell backward, the weights falling in front of him. He stayed on his back for a moment, then got up and took off his shoes deliberately. He set them to the side of the mat, and walked away.
From a gold medal, from the Olympics, from his career.
At 32, Dimas is retiring.
It has been a long, circuitous career.
He was born in Albania but is of Greek heritage (his grandparents were Greek). He began his international career lifting for Albania, competing as Pirro Dhima until 1990. But that year, he approached the president of the Greek weightlifting federation about moving to Greece, and he did so later that year.
Since then, Dimas has become a superstar.
Three Olympic golds, including his first in 1992 when his shout of "For Greece!" after his winning lift forever captured the hearts of Hellas. Seven World Championship golds. He has a stadium named in his honor.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Greece essentially had three comets it was riding into these Games: sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, and Dimas. Two of those comets exploded before Opening Ceremonies. But Dimas remained, although in the past three years he has been beset with injuries to both shoulders and a leg.
Then he suffered a wrist injury this week but said he would compete anyway.
Last night, in the two disciplines combined in the weightlifting finals, the snatch and the clean-and-jerk, Dimas lifted a total of 832 pounds, 5.5 pounds shy of the silver, 13 pounds light of tying for the gold.
He did his best, and that seemed good enough, for both him and his fans.
It was impossible for the cheers to stop.