Cypriot discus thrower Apostolos Parellis (© AFP/Getty Images)
Apostolos Parellis may not be the tallest or largest among world-class discus throwers, however what he lacks in size, he certainly makes up for in speed, technique and determination. Standing just 186cm and weighing 110kg – small for an elite international thrower – the veteran Cypriot athlete has proven himself as one of the most consistent performers at major championships.
Parellis, 34, narrowly missed a medal at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, his second and best throw of 66.32m, although a new national record, was just 50cm short of a bronze medal. Had Parellis found an additional half metre, he would have become only the second Cypriot to win a world championship medal following Kyriakos Ioannou, who leaped to high jump silver in 2009 and bronze in 2007.
Despite the disappointment of finishing just outside of the medals, Parellis focuses upon the positives of a valiant effort and commendable showing.
“I was also close in Beijing (2015 World Championships) and I tried very much to take one medal, but I am happy with the national record,” Parellis said. “I also took the qualification for the Olympics, so I am happy with this result.”
It was the third consecutive top ten performance for Parellis at the world championships. A two-time Olympian, Parellis finished eighth at the Rio 2016 Olympics, improving upon his 13th place result in London 2012. Other recent achievements include winning a gold medal at the Mediterranean Championships in Tarragona, Spain, and bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, both in 2018.
Periklis Markaris, the president of Cyprus Amateur Athletic Association, aptly praised Parellis in response to a question about what makes the veteran discus thrower such a successful competitor for Cyprus.
"His commitment, determination and focus, and his work ethic,” Markaris answered. “He is a big event athlete who performs best when all lights are on him and he has proven this at the Olympics and the World Championships. He is a role model for our athletes, and not only those in the throwing events."
Road to Tokyo
Considering a highly productive two-month training camp in January and February in South Africa that ended abruptly as the coronavirus pandemic ceased all athletic activities, Parellis is optimistic about the postponed Tokyo Olympics, now scheduled to open in July 2021.
“I had a big goal for Tokyo this year, but now I don’t know what will happen one year later,” Parellis said. “The goal is the same and I hope to be in Tokyo with the same condition I felt in Doha.
“I will begin my training in September and give my best – if I throw well like in Doha, then I will be happy closing my career with three Olympic Games and three good results.”
Parellis could become just the second athlete from the Eastern Mediterranean island country to bring home an Olympic medal. Pavlos Kontides won a silver medal in sailing at the London 2012 Games.
Trajkovic making his mark
For a small nation with a total population of less than one million, Parellis isn’t the only Cypriot excelling on the global stage in Athletics. 110m hurdler Milan Trajkovic and 400m runner Eleni Artymata have also attained qualifying standards for the Tokyo Games.
"With the way the qualification is now set, with high standards and the implementation of the world ranking system, we are satisfied that three of our champions have qualified so early on,” Markaris said. “So far, only half of the quotas have been covered in athletics and we are confident that we will have even more athletes from the pre-Olympic team qualifying, mainly through the ranking system."
Markaris touched upon the accomplishments of Trajkovic, who has won a pair of gold medals at the Games of the Small States of Europe and Artymata, who will be representing Cyprus at her fourth Olympics.
"She is a champion with many years of high performance,” Markaris said. “While she started in sprints, 100m and especially 200m, she decided to move on to the 400m event with even more success. The fact that she has qualified for four Olympics is a testament to this."
"Milan has had great progress, which is shown by his presence in an Olympic final, in world championship finals and by winning the gold medal in the European Indoors,” Markaris said. “He has great potential and much more to offer."
Striking a work and family balance
As an undetermined competition schedule leading to the Tokyo Games is leaving all athletes with uncertainty, Parellis has another distraction – one he welcomes at his home in Nicosia. Around training, he is quite busy caring for his two young children, Stephanie (age five) and Michael (one year, five months) with wife Carolina.
“It was only a few times a week at my small home gym, maximum one hour, because I have the kids and they are coming into this small room asking, ‘Where is my dad, where is my dad?’ and then the training is finished,” Parellis says with a laugh.
Although he resumed more extensive outdoor training four weeks ago, Parellis is leaning towards a limited competition schedule as sport leaders and meet directors try to salvage a season that the virus has turned upside down.
“I will try some tests and see if I will compete at the end of July and August,” he informed. “My national championship is 6th and 7th of August and I think I will only throw there. If I feel really good, then maybe I’ll go to some meetings around Europe at the end of August.”
Propelling the Cypriot discus rise
Parellis set his first national record in 2007 at the age of 22 with a toss of 57.81m and then gained even more notoriety upon winning the Games of the Small States of Europe at home in Cyprus two years later. His popularity and longevity in the ancient sport – as demonstrated by the fifth-century BC Myron statue Discobulus – has inspired a surge of Cypriot discus throwers.
“I have three guys training in my group this year and I think one of them will throw over 60 metres very soon,” Parellis surmises. “Discus is the only event in Cyprus with five athletes on this high level and in other events maybe one, max two.”
Parellis receives support in his homeland from domestic sponsors including Opap (sports betting), Metochemie (pharmaceuticals) and Charlambides Kristis (dairy products), as well from Puma Greece, all helping him pave the way to greater distances in his sport.
He is also grateful for the unwavering support provided by the Cyprus national Olympic committee, which generally lacks the resources of larger NOCs.
"We are extremely proud here at the Cyprus NOC of the success of all of our athletes, and not only those in athletics,” said Dinos Michaelides, the president of the Cyprus NOC. “Although being a small country, we have tremendous success on the international level, in various sports. We have world champions, European medalists and many more.
“In athletics, we have a small but strong team and we are very proud of our athletes who have qualified so far for Tokyo – Milan, Eleni and Apostolos, but also for the rest of our athletes in athletics who are seeking Olympic qualification."
Michaelides is bullish on Cyprus’s chances next summer in Japan.
“We are very confident that next summer in Tokyo we will be able to witness historic moments for Cypriot sport,” Michaelides added. “We have only won one Olympic medal in our history, a silver in sailing in 2012 by Pavlos Kontides, so winning a medal in Tokyo would be a national celebration.
“I believe that our athletes, not only in athletics, but in all sports, have every right to believe they can make history happen in Japan next year."
Parellis, who will be 35 at the Tokyo Games, cannot be counted out when it comes to potentially finding the right formula for an Olympic medal. However, the veteran discus thrower is quick to mention his fellow Cypriot athletes when asked what will it take for someone to duplicate the feat of Kontides in 2012.
“I think we have a big chance for another medal,” Parellis says. “All of our athletes have big goals and big dreams.
“If I take a medal, it will be like “wow” – I don’t even know how to tell you how big it will be.”
Brian Pinelli for World Athletics