INNER STRENGTH FUELING GREEK CYCLIST VOLIKAKIS ON ROAD TO TOKYO
18 May 2021
Greek cyclist Christos Volikakis has devoted his life to cycling. In return, the sport has taught the Olympic-bound 33-year-old a number of critical qualities, including patience, persistence and a never-say-die attitude.
These are attributes that have helped shape Volikakis into one of his nation’s greatest cyclists, and they have also come in particularly useful during the pandemic.
Fresh off his double gold-medal winning performance at the European Games Minsk 2019, Volikakis was primed and ready for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which were originally scheduled to take place in the summer of 2020 before being postponed by a year due to COVID-19.
His fourth trip to the Games after appearances at Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016 was put on hold and adjusting to the new realities of life under lockdown required a fair amount of mental fortitude.
“In the beginning it was a shock for me,” he says. “I had prepared very well and I was coming off some important victories, as World Cup holder and two gold medals at the European Games. I was feeling great and ready for my big trip to Tokyo. When everything changed, I had to find a way to start from the beginning with new plans.”
Like many athletes, Volikakis found that a lack of competitions to take part in during the pandemic has been one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. As a result, he has jumped at every opportunity to race, which has seen him travel throughout Europe, to Asia and even South America prior to Tokyo 2020 to, as he puts it, “stop this terrible inactivity.”
“After this unpleasant situation, my training team and I decided to start a new effort during COVID,” Volikakis says. “We decided to attend races in countries that are safe, considering their particular situations. We managed to cover some of the lost time and we will keep going until the start of Olympic Games in Tokyo.”
While Volikakis missed the podium in his first three visits to the Olympic Games, he is confident that if he sticks to his game plan – one based on high-altitude training and difficult pre-Olympic races put together with his coach Lampros Vasilopoulos and brother Zafeiris (who will be a reserve cyclist for Greece at Tokyo 2020) – things could work out differently this summer in Japan.
“In London I was very close to a medal, which I didn’t get because of bad luck,” he says. “I finished in 9th place and now I really want to obtain the only medal missing from my medal collection. This is my dream.”
As a result of a back injury suffered in 2016, Volikakis is one of the few cyclists in the world to successfully transition from sprint to endurance racing during his storied career. So while he represented Greece at Beijing, London and Rio in the men’s Keirin discipline, in Tokyo he will be competing in the Omnium, a discipline he was ranked No. 1 in the world in as recently as the 2018-2019 season.
“[The switch to endurance racing] was the only solution that would allow me to continue in the sport,” he says. “Nevertheless, I have to admit that I love both styles of racing. The passion remains the same.”
His passion for cycling, which he says he became addicted to at age 6 when he and his brother took part in and won a few public races, has blossomed into an impressive career that featured, among other highlights, 53 national titles since 2004, one Junior World Championship title, three silver medals at the European Championships, a bronze at the World Championships and two European Games gold medals (in Scratch and Points).
The victories in Minsk were a massive boost in confidence for Volikakis, who views the European Games’ experience as an excellent test for aspiring Olympians just a year out from the Olympic Games. “I have had unforgettable moments holding our Greek flag as the appointed flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony,” Volikakis says. “I felt very proud and I began to dream about Tokyo. I felt closer to my targets.
“Later on, the entire community of Olympic athletes had to be patient in the face of the pandemic, which changed everything. We all had to look for solutions to deal with this problem.”
Thankfully, Volikakis found valuable strength in the many lessons he has learnt on his journey from being a 6-year-old on the Volos coast to a 33-year-old poised to take part in his fourth Olympic Games this summer.
“This sport has taught me to deal with difficulties with patience, to persist and never give up,” he says. “My passion for cycling gives me the energy to push myself to the limits when reaching for success.”