Columnist: New UGA coach has Old World style

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

The newest Georgia coach has more than a few noteworthy affiliations, highlights and experiences.

He is, among other things, an overachieving retsina aficionado, with a link to Aristotle and a conviction that the best thing in life – outside family – is education, the work ethic and the fulfillment one gets from running with the wind.

Petros Kyprianou was named the head track and field coach last week. As you may have surmised, his heritage is Greek, and – because of his Old World roots – he has an affection for the land of opportunity, which all too many within our borders take for granted or care for not at all.

To get a degree at Aristotle University, his schooling was paid for, a government benefit which is pretty much standard with European countries. The government won’t pay your bills, however. If you want to eat, you have to manage yourself. Lodging is on your tab, too.

Finding odd jobs enabled Petros to feed himself. If he went hungry, so be it. It was worth the sacrifice to achieve an education. He slept on the floor of a friend’s apartment. A bad back was subordinated to his ultimate goal of a degree.

After time spent at Aristotle University in the northern Greek town of Thessaloniki, he found his way to the University of Nebraska Omaha where a friend, Dr. Nick Stergiou, offered assistance and direction. At that point, Petros’s objective was to earn a PhD, but coaching opportunity enabled him to pursue his first love – track and field which is big in Greece (remember where the Olympics began?).

Petros was a decathlete with noteworthy success in high school and at Aristotle University but points out that, although the popularity of the sport is lofty in Greece, the competition, at least when measured internationally, pales by comparison. There is something to be said about enthusiasm, however. Petros has an abundance of that. He also has plenty of insight to go with his goal-oriented objectives.

The oldest of six, Petros appreciates that sacrifice can be a virtue, and his struggles have resulted in gratefulness and a big-picture perspective. Getting to the finish line is the fulfillment of work and effort, dedication and love of competition.

He grew up in Cyprus, which has experienced a troubled past. Greeks on the southern portion of the island have, for decades, squabbled with those of Turkish heritage on the north end of the island. There is a green line that geographically separates north and south, similar to the 38th parallel that separates North and South Korea.

What this background means is that Petros knows strife has no geographical barriers and that opportunity has no limitations, which is why when he was offered an opportunity to take an assistant’s job by his predecessor, Wayne Norton, in 2008, he considered it golden. Now, to lead the Georgia program is like scaling Mount Olympus.

He began his conversation with a warm tribute to the man he succeeded.

“I can’t thank Coach Norton enough for, first of all, bringing me here and then letting me take charge of the field events. He has been a mentor and friend. I thank him for the opportunity to be at Georgia.”

Petros has enduring passion for his sport. He will have something in common with Herschel Walker – people will know him by his first name since his last name is, shall we say, Greek to most everyone. You will be hearing more from Petros with the passing of time.

With a disarming smile and a belief that every one of his athletes should compete in the classroom as well as on the track, Petros has been voted the top assistant track coach in the country two years in a row. When your peers take note of your work, it confirms that your passion is being appropriately recognized.

Passion and pride help motivate, but Petros is blessed with humility. He says, poignantly, “When you come from nothing and you get something, then you appreciate everything.”

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.