Switching Allegiances

Alexandros Kouvakas on Weightlifting and Ambitions to Represent Greece at Olympic Games

  • Weightlifter Alexandros Kouvakas is training in Athens with hopes to represent Greece at the Olympics. Photo Courtesy Hookgrip

A weightlifter waits for his turn to compete. He rubs the church’s holy oil on his knees and elbows, praying to the archangel, Michael. It’s time. Stepping centre stage on the mat, he grabs the 210-kilogram barbell, lifting it over his broad shoulders.

It’s the summer of 2004 and 14-year old Alexandros Kouvakas, or Aleko as he’s affectionately called, is watching the Olympic games from home. It was then when the Concordia alumnus—he has a degree in Exercise Science—was truly serious about his dream of becoming a weightlifter.

“I wanted to do something a little bit different,” Kouvakas said. “It’s funny because I didn’t know what Olympic weightlifting was—especially at the time, weightlifting wasn’t popular at all in North America.”

Present day, Kouvakas is training in Athens, with ambitions to represent Greece in this summer’s upcoming Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Despite being eligible to represent Canada, Kouvakas opted for Greece instead.

“When I started Olympic weightlifting, my goal was to represent them and go to the Olympics,” Kouvakas said. “That was my goals, this is what I wanted to do and I’m living my dream.”

Weightlifting is to Greece what hockey is in Canada. It’s more of a traditional sport, and it’s taken more seriously professionally, which is one of the reason’s why Kouvakas decided leave Canada and train abroad.

“They have more support, not only from the federation or the government, but from the people,” said Kouvakas’ younger brother, George. “Weightlifting—when you think who’s the best, Greece comes to mind. It’s just much bigger there.”

This has always been Kouvakas’s ambition since starting the sport. But he does admit to having some struggles.

“I did have a negative experience,” he said. “I kind of felt a bit blocked. I got a negative stigma from doing well, which I didn’t appreciate.”

Kouvakas has seen his share of success as a weightlifter. Back in Laval, he has a well-garnished trophy cabinet including a provincial title, at a junior and senior level, Canadian junior champion, second place at Canadian senior level, and a Quebec junior record 200-kilogram clean and jerk.

“When I started Olympic weightlifting, my goal was to represent them and go to the Olympics,” Kouvakas said. “That was my goals, this is what I wanted to do and I’m living my dream.”

Previously practiced by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, weightlifting was a measure of strength. It would eventually become an international sport, featured in the 1896 Athens Games, the first modern-era Olympics.

Olympic weightlifting consists of two lifts. In the “snatch,” the lifter holds the bar in a wide grip in a single movement. The “clean and jerk” consists of two movements, pulling weight up to the shoulders, and then standing up, while balancing the barbell on the shoulders. Lifters are separated into weight class and are given three attempts for each lift. Three officials are present, judging whether the lifts are done correctly.

Four years before he began weightlifting, Kouvakas’s mother, Stella Zombolas, was reluctant. Not only was she concerned it would stunt his growth, she thought that since he was young, he wouldn’t take it seriously enough to continue long-term.

“Alex was the type of child that if you put him in a sport, he wanted to do whatever he wanted,” Zombolas said. “He never stuck to anything.”

Despite this, Kouvakas was adamant on being involved in the sport and decided to speak with his parents on trying to find a place where he can start weightlifting.

“I came home one day and I went to my mom, in a very serious tone: ‘mom, I don’t care what you told me four years ago, go on the internet and find a place where I can start this sport,’” Kouvakas said.

He began training three times a week at Collège Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur, across from Saint Joseph’s Oratory. From there, he started competing in local Quebec competitions. He quickly moved up to Canadian juniors and seniors in the process. His first international competition came when he was 18 years
old, at the World Juniors in Colombia.

“He started to do [weightlifting], to slim down, to build muscle,” Zombolas said. “He started to get confidence. He was more zoned, more centered.”

Kouvakas will be representing Greece, at the upcoming European Weightlifting Championships, in Førde, Norway in April. He’ll be competing in a super heavyweight class. Kouvakas is currently training four and half to five hours a day, lifting weights in the gym.

“I’m confident of achieving my goals, I want to snatch 160, and clean and jerk at least 200 kilograms,” Kouvakas said.

The European Championships are his current focus until his Olympic dream comes true, but there are a few hurdles that stand in his way.

Due to the economic crisis, the Greek national team is currently experiencing difficult times in trying to qualify a spot for the team to go to the Olympics. Because of the crisis, the Greek government doesn’t have many funds at their disposal for a potential Olympic team, despite the fact that they may still have an
outside chance at qualifying.

In addition, Kouvakas needs to compete in two international competitions in order to become eligible for the Olympics. He must compete at a final test in Asia to earn a qualifying total, because he needs to participate in two international competitions to be eligible. As a result of this, Kouvakas’s Olympic dream is on
the backburner, for now. But he’s already surpassed at least one person’s expectations.

“He proved me wrong,” said Zombolas, his mother. “But in a sense I’m kind of happy he stuck with it.”

By commenting on this page you agree to the terms of our Comments Policy.