“The Greek Lion of Himara” Pyrros Dimas

To many, in terms of pound for pound strength, he has no equal. His World and Olympic runs have not been surpassed. His legacy in his homeland of Greece and World wide can not be touch.

Early years

Pyrros was born in 1971 on the 13th of October of Greek parents, of Greek orthodox Christians, in a predominately Greek part of One reAlbania called Himara. In 1991 the iron curtain fell and, at 20 years old, Pyrros could finally move  to Greece where he quickly made a name for himself in the world of Olympic Weightlifting.

Greece was never a power house in sports. Children of Greece were never given many national heroes to look up to and idolize when growing up. While Children from nations like USA, Canada and Britain would go out and play basketball dreaming of becoming the next Michael Jordan, play hockey dreaming of becoming the next Wayne Gretzky, and play soccer and dream of becoming the next David Beckham, Greek kids had to look abroad for their sporting heroes. Every nation seemed to have one sport they were good at. Every nation seemed to have legends that defied the odds and triumphed when every one said they could not. Men and Women that would compete on a world stage and make their fellow citizens proud to say they were their countrymen/women.

1992 Barcelona Olympic Games

For the longest time Greece did not have this. Pyrros Dimas showed up in 1991 and gave Greece what it was waiting for. When Greece needed a man to rise up and perform acts the rest of the World would marvel at, Pyrros Dimas was their gift from the gods. His arrival to the rest of the World was official at the 1992 Olympics.

Held in Barcelona, the Olympic games were a dismal failure for Greek athletes outside of gold medal winning track star Voula Patoulidou. Voula won the gold medal in the women’s 100 meter hurdles, and was instantly adored by the Greek media. But it was when Pyrros stepped onto the weight lifting platform to hoist up 202.5 kg (445.5 pounds) that Greece seen the birth of a super star. Two other lifters in his weight class (Krzystof Siemion of Poland and Ibragim Samadov of Unified Team) lifted the same weight in their third attempts, but Pyrros having done it in his second attempt was award the victory. It was enough to place a 21-year-old Pyrros as the greatest middleweight in the World, and earn him an Olympic Gold Medal.

In a monumental lift that will forever be immortalized in highlight reels Pyrros put up the weight as if it was a simple training session in the gym. Like a true Greek warrior, in the lift Pyrros shouted out “Gia thn Ellada!” which translates into English as “For Greece!” With the weight held over his head Pyrros stood triumphant with his arms stretched up in a victory pose. Before letting the weight down Pyrros nodded his head with a smile on his face in a “how do you like that” manner while looking back and forth at the amazed crowd. He stayed in this position for a moment to let photographers take their pictures before dropping the weight back down to earth. It was a moment will forever serve at one of the highlights of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and put Greece on the map for weightlifting.

New Fame from Olympic Games

When Greece’s 2 Olympic Champions returned home to Greece in Athens they were met by 100,000 proud Greeks who came to show their appreciation. Their arrival was televised and they had become national icons over night.

With great achievements comes great expectations, and with a lack of other World class athletes the expectations of a Nation were on Pyrros to deliver (Voula would never again take home an Olympic medal). Pyrros lived up to those expectations, and exceeded them.

1996 Atlanta Olympic Games

In the World of Olympic weightlifting Pyrros Dimas became Greece’s Achillees. In between the 1992 and 1996 Olympics there were 3 World Championships, and Dimas won 2 of them (1993 and 1995). Heading into the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta Dimas was a heavy favorite to win the Gold medal again. To no one’s surprise, he was Greece’s flagbearer in the open ceremonies for the Greek Olympic team. If Americans in Atlanta had not known who Pyrros Dimas was before, they were about to find out. A Nation that boasted many World class athletes with an arrogant confidence was about to be humbled.

Dimas decimated his competition, and it was not even close. In the end he set two new World records, for both the snatch and the jerk, and took home another gold medal. He powered up the weight and held up in the air with a borderline arrogant smile nodding his head as if to say “Not bad, huh?” knowing full well he had just set a new World record and won the Gold Medal and made it look like he had room to spear. He did, the Silver medalist (Marc Huster of Germany) was 9 kg (roughly 20 pounds) behind. The American and World press snapped photos of his with the weight held over his head while he posed before dropping the weight down. It was just further reassurance as to how easy it was for him to lift that kind of weight. When Dimas felt his point was made he dropped the weight and strutted off the weight lifting platform. At home in Greece, his people could not be prouder. In Pyrros they had an athlete no other from any other nation could touch. With his history setting lift and charisma (the American public eats up a cocky confident athlete) America take notice of his talents. It was perfect timing for Dimas as the American press and public were all paying close attention to weightlifting that year as American weightlifter Mark Henry was competing and had quite the buzz.

Icon Status in Greece

After Dimas’ success it appeared he had started something big in Greece. Where as once Greek was looking for its place in the sports world and starved for star athletes, it seemed as though they had finally found their calling. Canada had hockey, US had basketball, Cuba had boxing, and Greece had weightlifting. Perhaps inspired by Dimas years before, in the 1996 Olympics Greece took home 2 Gold Medals in weightlifting and 3 Silver Medals.  It was almost 3 times as many medals in one sport as Greece was able to manage in every sport in the previous Olympic games.

Injuries sideline a legend signally the end

“The Greek Lion of Himara” struck gold again at the 1998 Worlds but fell to a tough shoulder injury soon after. Surgery would have to be done, and recouping from the injury took its effect on Dimas. In the 1999 World Championships the son of Greece had to “settle” for a Silver medal. The following year Dimas was injured again, and this time took a back seat when it came time to hand out medals in the European Championships in 2000. It looked as though the career of the one of the most feared strength athletes was coming to a close. Only 2 other men had ever won 3 gold medals in the Olympics for weightlifting. With the 2000 Olympic games around the corner and Dimas no longer able to bring home even a bronze at the European Championships earlier that year it was hard to picture Dimas making history winning 3 Olympic Gold medals. It appeared as though he was winding down a great career, and would likely be making his last appearance in the 2000 Olympics and be leaving with may be a bronze.

The Ultimate Comeback! Legendary!

But the Greek Lion was determined not to be denied his place among the greats. His start in the event was shaky, and had many feeling as though he would miss the medal podium all together. After failing on his first two snatch attempts Pyrros finally landed his third, and was lagging behind in fourth place moving into the clean and jerk lifts. In the clean and jerk Pyrros would either be relegated to being another double Gold medalist or match the record of 3 gold medals. Behind 3 other lifters, his destiny was written to be a legend, and in the Sydney Olympic games he rose from the ashes to claim what was his. The result was a dramatic, must be written from an ancient folklore, ending with a three-way tie between Pyrros, arch rival Marc Huster of Germany and Georgi Asanidze of Georgia. With Pyrros, Greece, and the rest of the World watching to see if they were watching history be made, The Greek Lion was award the Gold medal as he was the lightest competitor (with Huster once again settling for Silver, and Asanidze went hom with the Bronze).

It would have been the perfect time for Pyrros to retire from weightlifting and sail off into the sunset, but like all greats, the lure of the spotlight was too great. Especially with the next Olympic Games coming to Athens, Greece. It was too much to pass up. The thought of competing in front of his country men and women in the largest sporting event in the World at the sport he has dominated was a dream come true. For most Greeks it would also be a dream come true to see their idol and hero compete at the World stage one last time in their homeland. Though, there was some worry that if he even lasted another four years to the next Olympics Pyrros may just show up to embarrass himself with the World watching in front of all his admirers. Weight lifting is a tough sport on the body, and takes its toll on the joints and muscles. By the time the 2004 Olympics would come to Greece for Pyrros to defend his crown against the World’s best he would be in the game nearly a  two decades. His body had been through more than its fair share of wars, and already heading into the 2000 games he had several injuries that hampered his performances in competitions.

One Last Olympic Appearance

But The Greek Lion was determined to defend in one last Olympics before his country. He promised his followers that he would remain active in the interim between the last Olympics and the one in Greece and stay in top form. He assured them he would not go out like the Great Naim Suleymanoglu, of Turkey, before him. Naim, perhaps the greatest of all Olympic weightlifters, came back for one last Olympic games and embarrassed himself by not completing a single lift. It was not the way a legend should leave the sport he dominates. It is the equivalent to a former Heavyweight Champion boxer staying in the game too long and losing to guys who previously could not hold up his jock strap. Naim made the mistake of being inactive for years leading up to his last stand. Pyrros assured every one he would not make the same mistake.

Months rolled off the calendar, competitions came and went, and Pyrros was not to be seen. Whether he couldn’t make a couple of the competitions due to injury, or was just choosing his battles in an attempt to sat injury free, he ended up doing exactly as Naim Suleymanoglu had done. At 32 years old, Pyrros had body of a man who had been through many battles. Entering the Athens,Greece games he had three surgeries on his knees. There was no doubt he lacked the advantage of shedding rust in competition, but what was even more alarming was his lack of training due to all these injuries and operations. Pyrros commented “Until now I have trained less than the other athletes, but in the final week I will train to the limit. My target is a medal.”

The Perfect End

Fair enough. It seemed as though Pyrros had a plan to make up for all the time off due to injury. But few thought a hard week of training would be enough to land him a medal. Most expected him at best to stay in the top 10, if he is truly lucky the top 5 among the World’s strongest men. Even his biggest supporters had to admit The Greek Lion had the odds against him in garnering one last medal for Greece. Then the worst case scenario happened. Pyrros injured his wrist in the week leading up to the competition. It appeared as though the gods were not amused Pyrros was tempting fate. The stage was set for disaster, but Pyrros refused to pull out of the competition.

With his wrist taped, Pyrros took the weightlifting platform and lifted among the best of a new generation of warriors. To the delight of the crowd and sports fans the World over, Pyrros would not embarrass himself. Greek upstart Georgios Markoulias would have to wait to becomeGreece’s new hero in the middleweight division. In the end it all came down to one last lift, one last feat of strength. Pyrros would attempt a weight that would net him an unprecedented forth Gold medal. With the crowd in silence Dimas heaved the weight from the ground to his chest and stood up with it. It was clear by the look on his face he was hurting. The weight was too heavy, and his confidence that was always there in other Olympic games was gone. Dimas attempted to push the weight from his chest to over head but his battle worn arms gave out and he dropped the weight. Dimas fell to his back in a half roll and laid there with his hands over his face. To many in the crowd it was like watching a god fall from grace. In Athens,Greece, Achilles had finally lost. He was disappointed, hurt, and he would not make further history with another Gold medal. Like an ancient Greek soldier laying down his weapons in the battle field after he had enough, Dimas stood up, took off his weightlifting shoes and left them on the platform signaling he was done with weightlifting. He had left all he had there.

That’s when the crowd began a roar giving Dimas his just due for a valiant effort. It was clear Dimas had come to win, and not just show up. He put on enough weight on his last attempt to make a try for one last Gold “forGreece.” His efforts that night, and for the past 15 years in Greece’s honor were appreciated by his country. Suddenly, it seemed as though he had made the right choice to compete in one last Olympic games, in his homeland of Greece. It also turned out he did not miss his goal of one last medal. He had lifted enough weight to earn himself a Bronze. Even though it was not up to par with his past Olympic achievements it was likely the most memorable. Pyrros found it hard to control his emotions with the crowd cheering for him. With tears in his eyes, he was at a loss for words. He explained, “When you see your daughter crying for you, the sentiments are indescribable. She was crying with joy, and made me 10 times happier.” It was the first Olympics that his kids were old enough to watch and appreciate the magnitude of his accomplishment. It was the first Olympic medal he would win at home inGreece. As The Greek Lion would put it, it was the “perfect end.”

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