AP Interview: Olympic champion adds voice to #MeToo movement

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Greek Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou poses for a photograph during an interview for the Associated Press, at Agios Kosmas marina in southern Athens, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Bekatorou is the most successful female athlete in Greek sporting history who recently revealed that she was the victim of a sexual assault, allegedly by a senior sports official in 1998. In an interview with The Associated Press, Bekatorou said she was glad those revelations are having an impact in a country long accustomed to cronyism and senior-level impunity. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – Before she could join sailing classes near her home in Athens, Sofia Bekatorou had to show an instructor she could tie a basic knot properly. Passing the test at age 8 changed her life.

Bekatorou spent her first afternoons in a bathtub-sized sailboat stuck in circles, but coaches took note of the girl's determination. By her 12th birthday, she was outperforming the boys in competitive races and on a path to winning gold medals as a world champion and at the Olympics.

But the most successful woman in modern Greece’s sporting history revealed in January that an incident almost 23 years ago had marred much of her personal happiness and professional career — an alleged sexual assault by a Greek sailing federation official at a hotel in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Her disclosure was made at a little-advertised online sports seminar, but it gained national attention and elicited statements of support for Bekatorou from the country’s prime minister and first female president. It was followed by dozens of public claims of sexual misconduct and workplace intimidation in the worlds of elite sports, the performing arts, and academia.

Bekatarou, 43, said she hoped the reaction marked a turning point for Greek society, which often seems resigned to official cronyism and impunity.

“I’m very happy that they came forward and spoke out,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press,. “We need to embrace people who have lived through such experiences, because it’s a very big step, even talking about it.”

Bekatorou won a gold medal in the women's double-handed dinghy event with teammate Emilia Tsoulfa at the 2004 Summer Olympics, which was held in Athens.

Greeks caught televised glimpses of the many successes that followed: the keelboat race that returned her to an Olympics podium four years later in Beijing, and opening the parade of nations for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games as the first female flag-bearer ever to lead the Greek Olympic team.