Football coach ‘King Otto’ catches the Olympic fever

  • Other Sport
  • Tuesday, 10 Aug 2004

RIO (Greece): The German coach of European football champions Greece, Otto Rehhagel, was the star runner on Sunday as the Olympic flame crossed Greece's just inaugurated Rio-Antirio suspension bridge. 

“It was an astounding feeling. I hope that the completion of this bridge and the torch relay will set a signal for the Olympics and Paralympics,” Rehhagel told reporters after passing the flame to Stratos Apostolakis, coach of Greece's Olympic football team. 

“I am very happy today to run on this bridge, which is really a jewel,” said the 65-year-old, who became a national hero here in July for leading outsiders Greece to a stunning conquest of the Euro 2004 championship in Portugal. 

HONOURED: Greece’s German football coach, Otto Rehhagel runs with the Olympic torch during the crossing of the Rio-Antirio bridge on Sunday. – AFPpic

“It's a great honour for me,” said Rehhagel, whom 80% of Greeks said in a recent poll should be made an honorary Greek citizen. 

The showcase 2.2km Rio-Antirio bridge that spans the straits separating the Gulf of Corinth from the Gulf of Patras was inaugurated on Saturday at a gala ceremony. 

The structure to have been completed in November, but authorities pressed for it to be ready before the Olympics in order to present it as a symbol of a modern Greece. 

The bridge is to open for circulation on Thursday, on the eve of the Games' opening ceremony. The Olympic Games will run until Aug 29, with the Paralympics to be staged from Sept 17-28. 

Rehhagel took the flame from Dimitris Kitsos, a high-ranking Greek official involved in the bridge's construction, and ran with the flame for 300m. 

Hundreds of Olympic volunteers enthusiastically cheered Rehhagel on the bridge, chanting “The German is crazy” and “Otto, you look marvellous with the flame and your white T-shirt on.”  

Others had their picture taken with him and asked him to sign autographs on their caps. – AFP 

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