What is common between opera “diva” Maria Kallas, chef Nikolaos Tselementes, basketball player Nick Gallis, tele-detective Aggeliki Nikolouli, author Vasilis Alexakis, music producer Yiannis Petridis and computer “guru” Nikolaos Negreponte? They are all highly renowned in some area of science, sports or the arts and they are Greek. Some of them hold a world record that distinguishes them for their accomplishments. A new book “The Greek Book of Records” will be published in November (Dioptra publications) to exhibit women and men of our nation with outstanding performance in their areas of expertise. More or less, 900 Greeks (many of whom Greek American) will be featured in its pages. The book will be an interesting reading, especially for young people aspiring to exceed expectations and make us proud.
“The Greek Book of Records” will not be a rewrite of “The Guinness Book of Records” for Greek people. The latter already contains famous Greek personalities and it would be redundant to rewrite their accomplishments focusing on just one nation. “The Greek Book of Records” is more inspirational; it focuses on the lives and the process of attaining such distinctions. It is a book that you read and it instantly motivates you to succeed, no matter what nationality you are!
It is a book of everyday people like you and me. Like Stathis Hatjis from the island of Simi, who disproved the theories of Hyper-gravitational Physics regarding the natural limits of a human being under water. Before WW2, Stathis Hatjis was regularly diving in depth of 88 meters (288.71 feet) without equipment. He would stay under water for 3’ and 58” to collect ocean sponges. Another feat of defeating nature is attributed to Yiorgo Caralambo (Γιώργος Χαραλάμπους), who assembled a team of 9 Greeks to cross the Great American desert on the way to California. In their exploration, they brought camels from Syria! Even most impressive is the feat of Sofia Psilolignou, an employee of the Greek Electric Company. She has swam across the English Channel; twice!
The year was 1938, the place was the Berlin European Boxing Tournament. Greek boxer and world champion (Light Heavyweight, 1941, Cleveland, OH) Antonis Christoforidis “beat up” and brutally defeated (in 12 rounds) his German opponent Gustav Eder in front of Adolf Hitler. The Nazi leader left the stadium in a furious rage before the fight was over. Together with the African-American Jesse Owens, a year before, Christofidis (born in Messina, Greece, lived in Geneva, Ohio) was one of the athletes who ruined Hitler’s mood and “theories” of Arian supremacy. It was the turbulence of war conflicts and invasions in Greece that motivated Stamatis Liveris (from Zakynthos) to make the world’s largest flag. Andreas Garyfalis (from Hania, Crete) made the world’s largest newspaper (the only one that will never make it through the bathroom)… The name of the paper was “Chillout.” Alexandros Tampouras was the first to insure astronauts (1969). Yes, Greeks are eager to take a chance!
One of the most impressive record holders is Nikos Maggitsis who has done the “Seven Summits.” He has climbed the 7 highest and most dangerous mountain tops of the 7 Continents. Now, something for our Golden Years readers: Jim Eriotes (a Chicago native, parents came from the island of Poros) was the oldest professional athlete; he played baseball until he was 84! Yiannis Kotsiopoulos swam a distance of 78 kilometers (48 and a half miles) in 39 hours. When he accomplished this feat he was 50 years old! The youngest Olympic athlete and gold metalist ever was Greek; his name is Dimitrios Lourdas. At 10 years and 218 days old he won the gold as a member of the rowing team for the 1896 Athens Olympics, the first modern Olympic Games. He was in charge of the rudder; his small size and perfect sense of balance made him ideal for the winning Greek team. Takis Ikonomopoulos (cousin of our own Parishioner Sakis Ikonomopoulos) is the goal keeper with the longest record of not allowing a goal in a professional soccer category (1,088 minutes from 1964-65). Lyssandros Georgamlis (known for his career in AEK Athens) has been recorded for the fastest goal-shot, measured at 122 kilometers per hour (scored against Olympiakos in the period 1988-89 when he was still playing for Ethnikos).
The best Greek basketball player of all times was Nick Gallis. His full name was Nikos Georgallis, but he grew up in Bronx, where they were calling him Nick Gallis. He started as a boxer, but his basketball skills were also a knock out! Gallis, a shooting guard, saw his NCAA points average reach 27.5 and his name ranked third among the leading NCCA scorers, behind the great Larry Bird and Balder. When he left Siton Hall, his name was on nearly every record scoring list in the college. In the spring of 1979 Gallis realised that the time had come for him to try and play in the NBA. But this big plan was ruined by the whims of his manager, Bill Manon, who may have ruined Gallis' career but surely all Greeks are now grateful to him. Bill Manon was the agent of a few basketball players but mostly actors and artists, etc. Among those was the famous Diana Ross who had just launched her solo career away from her band "The Supremes". 'Upside Down' became a big hit and the agent started making money hand over fist, neglecting his then 22 year old Greek basketball player. So, from the first round of the drafts, Gallis found himself in the fourth with the number 68 and was picked by the Boston Celtics who had already chosen Larry Bird and wanted Gallis just to make up the numbers. Boston Celtics pick of Larry Bird instead of Gallis in the 1979 draft made sense, but still Gallis deserved to play in the NBA.
Unbelievable scorer, in 168 games with the Greek national team, he averaged more than 30 points! Gallis led Greece to win the European Championship in 1987. Michael Jordan (October1983, National team of Greece Vs North Carolina State University for the "Dimitria" tournament): "I did not expect to find such a good offensive player in Europe, especially in your country." Drazen Petrovic: "I 'd love to play in the same team with him so I can pass the ball to him to score!" Arvidas Sabonis: "I have the feeling that if Gallis wants to score a basket, he will score, no matter what the opponent does. He is always determined to succeed." Bob McAdoo: "I 've seen Gallis doing things that I have not seen neither Lakers nor Celtics doing." His move to Greece helped Greek basketball reach heights never before imagined. He played in the 1986 FIBA World Championship, where he led all players in scoring average with 33.0 points per game. In that tournament, he had a 56 point outburst against the Panamanian National Team. Gallis next led the Greek National Team to the Eurobasket 1987 gold medal. Averaging 37.0 points per game during the tournament, he was named MVP after scoring 40 points in the final against the Soviet National Team and its legendary player Šarūnas Marčiulionis for a 103-101 victory. Gallis also led Greece to the second place at Eurobasket 1989, averaging 35.6 points per game. Gallis is remembered for a stunning effort against the Soviet team led by Marčiulionis and its other star player, Arvydas Sabonis, in the semi-final game. He scored 45 out of his team's 81 total points in a dramatic, last-gasp 81-80 victory. The team settled for a second place finish. Gallis was the leading scorer in every major European and world international competition that he participated in from 1983 onwards, the Eurobasket 1983, the 1986 FIBA World Championship, the Eurobasket 1987, the Eurobasket 1989, and the Eurobasket 1991. In 854 official career games played (including his College games), Gallis scored a total of 25,995 points, for a scoring average of 30.4 points per game. Nik the Greek’s professional career averaged 32.8 points per game!
It would be amiss not to make a reference to the academic achievements of brilliant Greek scientists, authors and professors. Yiorgos Paxinos is a professor in the University of New South Whales in Australia. He is the person who mapped the brain of the mouse. His book has been cited more than any other scientific document and it is the foundation of most medical research resources. Dimitris Terzopoulos is a professor of computer science in the United States and in Canada. He has received an Oscar for his digital effects work in the Lord of the Rings. In the same field we find Michael Dertouzos, the founder of computer science in the famous MIT. He is also one of the “founding fathers” of the www. code for the internet addresses. Sifis Sifakis is a programmer for air-travel software, holder of the Touring Award, equal to the Nobel prize. Constantinos Karatheodori (the final s was lost in translation) was a professor of Albert Einstein. Einstein said for him: “my mentor was an unrivaled Greek, to whom I, as well as mathematics, physics and the wisdom of our century owe everything.” He was a professor in 7 Universities and member of 6 Academies across the globe.
Evgenios Michael Antoniadis, an early 20th century astronomer, has mapped the lunar landscape and Mars. Two craters (one in each one of them) have his name. And just in time for your regents exams, it is great to read about the Kamvisselis family. All three of the children were accepted and received scholarships for MIT in the same year! Today, Manolis is an MIT professor, Peter (Παναγιώτης) is employed in Google and Maria is in real estate. Maria Tsoukala, a paleontology professor, discovered the largest Mastodon teeth in the area of Grevena, Greece. They are 5 meters and 2 centimeters (17 feet) long. Another famous Greek woman is photographer Nelly Seitaridi, whose photograph was the first picture from a woman photographer on the cover of Time magazine. Paintings of Constantinos Broumbidis comprise the rotunda honoring George Washington; he is also called America’s Michael Angelo.
The music industry has been blessed with many top artist of Greek descent. Yianni (Chrysomalis) and Yiannis Villiotis both share a common first name and a common Greek heritage. You all know the former; the latter is actually equally successful. Viliotis is in three Halls of Fame (Rock n’ Roll, Rock n’ Blues, Blues). Demis Roussos is the composer who assembled more than 200,000 fans for his concert in Brazil; only Frank Sinatra had attracted similar numbers in a solo performance. And we all know Vangelis and many other renowned Greek composers who have left a mark in the industry. According to Wikipedia, “Vangelis is generally regarded by music critics to be one of the greatest composers of electronic music of all time.” Maria Kallas was the greatest opera singer of all time. She was an American born Greek artist with very versatile repertoire and unparallel vocal gifts.
Vasilis Alexakis translated books in the Sango language of Central Africa; just like Cyril and Methodios did for the Slavic people centuries ago, he created an alphabet for the unknown language and invented grammar for the troubled people of the area. George Bizos was the lawyer of Nelson Mandela. He founded the first School for all races in South Africa (in 1973), where ancient Greek is taught. The Greek Constitution of 1822 is also instructed since it was the first document of a modern nation deeming racism and slavery illegal and protecting the rights of all peoples in Greece by law. Another George, Γιώργος Σουρής (Souris) was the author of the world’s longest lasting newspaper that rhymed from the beginning till the end, the Romios. Even classifieds rhymed; it was published for 35 years and its jokes are being told for 5 generations (you read many of these jokes in these pages also). Aggeliki Nikolouli is the holder of three world records: fastest time to find a lost human being, most findings of lost people and fastest finding of the criminals in murder cases. She is the best tele-detective in the world with an unrivaled record of solved cases. She works with Greek police to solve high profile crimes and she also televises the documentaries of her work.
Stamatis Krimitzis was the designer of the first artificial comet and the designer of space vehicles for the NASA explorations of 8 planets (or moons) of our solar system. He is considered the top authority in his field. He is also a member of the Academy of Athens. It is true that in some cases you do have to be a rocket scientist to get in this book. In some other cases, being a chess champion will do just fine. Anna Maria Botsari is the holder of the world record for longest chess game playing. She played without a brake 1,102 games in 30 hours and 15 minutes. Leonidas Kestekidis is the sweetest Greek in the world. He was working as an employee in a US chocolate factory, when he visited Belgium. There, he fell in love with a Belgian lady, and he opened a chocolate store. Today he owns more than 1,400 stores worldwide; they are busy every day, especially on Valentine’s!
The only problem with the “The Greek Book of Records” is that it has not contained all the tremendous stories that the authors collected. In its more than 400 pages there is not enough space for all the Greek legends of the last century and their stories to be told. A second volume will follow to complete a compilation of total of 900 pages for 900 more amazing Greeks!