An Olympian Who Became A Successful Politician

Interview by Vassilios Nicolaos Vitsilogiannis
(IG: @vassiliosvitsilogiannis)

Voula Patoulidou is a Greek former athlete. Throughout her athletics career competed in the 100 meters, 100 meters hurdles and in the long jump events. In 1992 she was the first Greek woman ever to reach a track final of the women’s 100 meters hurdle at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. After her win and some years later, she decided to withdraw from the athletics and dedicate her time to politics. Her wax figure was made in 2012 and she herself kindly donated her tracksuit for the creation.

It is a great pleasure and honor to do this interview with you for the Greek Diaspora. You are the first female gold medalist in modern Greece. How did you get involved in sports?

Once you have tasted the victory you want to try it more. I tasted my first victory at a school competition where the prize was a loukoumi delight. Yes, a loukoumi delight and with such a prize it was fatal to get involved in
sports. No matter how childish or funny it sounds, the "prize" excited me! When I left with my parents for Germany, the coaches saw a child with prospects and enthusiasm for sports in me.

What were Voula’s Patoulidou dreams as a teenager and to what extent were they realized in the course of her life?

From the moment I entered sports, I gave my heart to it. I started with small teenage dreams, like the ones that children do, and every day that passed, I had a new dream come true. I feel weak every time I try to conquer new
lands and reach the top but I don't stop…I haven’t learned otherwise. It is a one-way street. There it seems who can bear to collide, who can bear to lose, fall and find the courage to get up and continue? Victories are not
given freely. They are won with too much effort. Great victories are deeply “rooted” in each one of us, our needs. If you want to be mediocre, it is your choice, but since you decide on mediocrity, do not envy the others who will
fall into the fire to succeed.

How difficult is it for an athlete to get involved in a championship when one has to fight in the stadium and an inner race with oneself?

Imagine a big circle. All athletes are in the circle. Also, there is a smaller circle, where you will meet athletes with talent. In an even smaller circle, you will find the champions. They are the ones who took their talent and gave shape to it. No victory, either big or small, is easy or intentional. You achieve it step by step. You make sacrifices. You fight battles in the sports field but also with ourself who is the strongest opponent. The time comes when you hear an inner voice saying…”now it’s your time!”

On August 6, 1992, you won the gold medal for Greece in the 100 m finals at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Your phrase “for Greecedamn it” shows a spontaneous person. Have you ever regretted your sincerity and to what extent do you see this as an asset to other people?

I have no regrets about my spontaneity. That’s how I am and I don’t intend to be someone else to be liked. What we achieve in our lives is an integral part of our personality. My spontaneity and impulsiveness gave me a boost
many times in my life. It was as if I had two invisible coaches next to me yelling at me “Hurry Up!” I believe those who I meet and classify as honest people have quality and intelligence.

Do you believe that Greek athletes, at major events such as the Olympic Games, have the appropriate support, of all kinds, from the Greek government?

And a hundred years old to be, I will be an athlete. As an athlete, I will always want the best and the most! Greek athletes are not alone and have the support of the government. We are a country that has had difficult times. Pandemic, memoranda and now the effects of the war. And yet! We succeed, and we excel.

The vote of the people strongly declares their respect for your face, but also their love for you. What do the people love about you, and what do they expect from you?

I never sat down to analyze where people's love comes from. You don’t put love under the microscope. We all need love and give love. I enjoy and like to be loved as the sun on my face on a cold winter morning. But it also acts as a commitment to my work and the effort I make. I want other people to see that I honor the love and respect they show me.

Let’s turn to the next chapter-your family. What are your husband and son for you?

When I touch their chests, they are the people who hear my heart.

Your big bet is tourism. How could you combine tourism and the sustainable development of your region?

The sustainable development of Thessaloniki is an integral part of its tourism. All the competent bodies are working in this direction. My dual role as Deputy Regional Governor of the Metropolitan Unit of Thessaloniki and as a President of the Thessaloniki Tourism Organization gives me the necessary tools in order to establish practices that will work in favor of the destination. Our country has formed a sustainable development model of tourism governance based on Human Capital, Balanced Regional

Development and anything that constitutes a Comparative Advantage for the destination, spearheaded of course by Quality and Authenticity in the approach of visitors-travelers.

As Deputy Regional Governor of the metropolitan unit of Thessaloniki, what are the future plans for the development of the area, and to what extent is there a good understanding with the central administration and the stakeholders involved in the implementation of the program?

In the Regional Unit, I manage the “Metropolitan Thessaloniki”. This is the Sustainable Urban Development Strategy in which eight municipalities of Thessaloniki are included and our goal is to include all 14 in the near future. With this program, citizens see projects being implemented by reforming areas and neighborhoods of the city. Since 2018, when I took over its management, 116 projects have been included. Green projects, actions for the protection of the environment such as the supply of electric cars, actions to strengthen civil protection and social programs aimed at
vulnerable groups.

How easy or difficult is it to persuade the relevant entities to believe in your dream so it can be realized?

When we were planning this program, at the outset, there were a number of reservations about whether it could be implemented correctly and on time. It was the first time that the two levels of self-government were called upon to cooperate and co-formulate a plan that concerns at the same time eight Municipalities of the Metropolitan Unit of Thessaloniki. And we were called upon to work together not individually, but on a specific project. The mayors of Thessaloniki were insightful and immediately realized the advantages of this project.

Before we conclude this interview, I would like you to say a few words addressing to the Diaspora.

Whatever soil we step on in Greece, we have it in our hearts. We all fight together as Greek patriots for the country and Hellenism.

As long as you exist, I will feel that I always return home…wherever I find myself.

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