George Afroudakis—The Buddha, In the Water, and Out

Every chapter in a story has its ending, and the sports story of George Afroudakis is written in golden letters.

Every chapter in a story has its ending, and the sports story of George Afroudakis is written in golden letters. In his 25-year water polo career, Afroudakis won almost everything. Above all, he won the respect and recognition of the world water-polo community, as he is considered among the greatest of all times.

The Greek Olympian decided to announce the end in his career, on August 4, 2016, one day before the opening of 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  It was the first Olympiad after Atlanta 1996 in which he was not participating.

His decision to withdraw literally broke the Internet. Thousands of messages from former teammates, opponents, coaches and fans from all over the world revealed the extent of gratitude and admiration that Afroudakis enjoyed as a personality and an athlete. “I could never imagine this” George admits, “only sports can offer such emotions, and I am blessed and thankful for dedicating my life to sports.”

Looking back, the five-time Greek Olympian had been the definition of sportsmanship, the favorite player of his coaches, a deadly weapon for every offence and a nightmare to the opposing defenders. 1600 goals in his career make him the top scorer in the Greek League, a record that cannot be easily broken. Five Olympic Games (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012), one Silver Olympic medal, six national championships and endless other accomplishments put Afroudakis in the elite of water-polo athletes in the history of the game.

George belongs to a group of personalities in Greece that represent the true spirit of Olympic Games. A perseverant athlete, persistent in his purpose, he paved the way for the teammates of his generation. His dedication has been an example, especially to his peers, on how to optimize skills through hard practice, discipline, and competitive spirit. It is not accidental that Greek water polo is at its highest level of the last 20 years. “Undoubtedly, all members of our team were exceptional atheletes. We kept a low profile and our only concern was how to raise the level in every practice, every game and every competition we took part in” he remembers. “George Mavrotas –an emblematic figure in Greek sports- shaped us all” he confesses.“ “Numerous other former players made this team strong in spirit and in results. My generation was fortunate to have two of the best coaches, Giannis Giannouris and Alessandro Campagna, who both helped us bring important triumphs to the country and created the ground for further success.”

Although water polo is not the most popular sport in the country Afroudakis is one of the most recognizable figures and an idol for kids in Greece, and his impact is precious. The nickname “Buddha” accompanied him throughout his career, because he was almost flawless, the ideal teammate and a born leader. “All we had was a love for the game and this is a strong message to younger athletes. You need determination and persistence, when you lose, to stand again, to overcome pain, and finally win. When you really love what you do, you become better, richer in experience and ready to face life’s real difficulties. This is the true meaning of sports after all.”

Now that the intensity of competition is over, George is adopting to his new life. He has a beautiful family, two young sons and a wonderful wife, Mara Zoupa. “After 25 years in swimming pools and eight hours a day in the water, the most difficult part is to getting used to living on land” he says smiling.

The next chapter in his story has him focused on transferring the winning habits of his sport career to his family business, Afroudakis Yachting Ltd, one of the oldest and most efficient agencies that specialize in Yacht Charters in Greece and the Mediterranean. “It seems like the water element is my fate,” he says. “Family is the core of our business, as I am lucky to have a very talented wife and two excellent brothers, Zahos and Christos, also water-polo champions, who are fully involved. My uncle Christos, a pioneer in yacht chartering, founded the company 35 years ago and is still active, offering his valuable advice. I remember him telling us: never cheat your customers. They are all you have,” he adds.

Restless out of the water, he now wants to transmit his energy and winning spirit to others, especially children. “Unfortunately, we lack true leaders. Our children need to enhance their spirit and ambition. They lack motivation. Greece does not promote these values. Success is not celebrated and this is something that should concern us.”

“Greeks have lost faith, but we witness daily that small miracles happen, especially when we focus on a target. See what happened in the Olympics of Rio, for example, where Greece, beyond expectations, came 26th in total medal rankings. And this in a period where Greek athletes are struggling, without the assistance of the state, without infrastructure, without resources. This is the Greek miracle: the soul and the heart of individuals. This is where we should invest and keep carrying on. I am optimistic and certain that we will soon stand on our feet.”

“I have chosen the tourism sector, because I see great potential in it. Tourism can be an even greater success story of this small country. We must focus on the delivery of efficient services.”

Despite the general crisis, his perception is positive: “Greeks have proven throughout millennia they have an ability to overcome obstacles. The best proof is the Greek diaspora. If you consider what these people have achieved, away from home and against all odds, you can’t lose hope” and adds, “Every summer we serve hundreds of Greek expats who choose Greece for their holidays. They come here to support their country and you can feel their frustration about the current situation. We live in the most beautiful country in the world with thousands of talented individuals. Above all, we have our values and of course, the Greek filotimo.” he proudly confesses.

Beyond business, Afroudakis has plans for the future related to social action. “I am not a person who likes to be at the center of attention but I believe that people who can positively influence the public, as I believe I can, have a responsibility to put in a hand for the common good and the reconstruction of our country. Remaining silent is not an option and I am convinced that others will follow.”

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