USA Wrestling staffer Harris Kalofonos helping Colorado Springs & Olympia, Greece become sister cities

By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling | Feb. 25, 2014, 10:03 a.m. (ET)
VIDEO: Harris Kalofonos talks about sister city project

VIDEO: Press conference, Mayor Steve Bach and Harris Kalofonos of USA Wrestling

Last summer, USA Wrestling asked its Manager of Development Harris Kalofonos to take on a major challenge. During a key point in the Keep Olympic Wrestling effort, Kalofonos was dispatched to his native Greece to help FILA organize the Olympia 2013 tournament.

The event brought a wrestling competition back to the historic Olympic grounds in Ancient Olympia. Kalofonos helped bring FILA together with the Greek government and the Greek Olympic Committee to pull off this unprecedented competition. The event was a major success, attracting worldwide attention, and is considered a turning point in wrestling’s successful campaign to retain its Olympic status.

While he was in Olympia, Kalofonos had an idea. Why shouldn’t Colorado Springs, Colo., America’s Olympic city, become a sister city with Olympia, Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic movement?

“When we were fighting for wrestling to remain in the Olympics, USA Wrestling sent me to ancient Olympia to do an event with FILA. That was the first time I realized the significance of ancient Olympia and how it could connect with Colorado Springs,” said Kalofonos.

Just seven months later, Kalofonos’ dream is taking the first major step to becoming reality.

“Coming here after the summer, after months went by, I got involved with the City for Champions project here on a volunteer basis. At the meetings, I said this would make a lot of sense. If we connect the modern capitol of the Olympic Games in the U.S., which is the Springs, with the ancient capitol of the Olympic Games, which is in Greece, it would benefit both cities,” said Kalofonos.

On February 12, Colorado Springs mayor Steve Bach called a press conference to present the idea to the local media and invite the City Council to get behind the effort. Bach kicked off the press conference by introducing Kalofonos and praising him for getting it all started.

“I am pleased to introduce Harry Kalofonos, who happens to be with USA Wrestling, and he’s also from Greece. This initiative is his idea. I want to thank Harry for coming forward with this. It’s an exciting opportunity,” said Bach.

Colorado Springs serves as the home of the U.S. Olympic Committee and one of its U.S. Olympic Training Centers, as well as headquarters for 22 Olympic and Paralympic National Governing Bodies, including USA Wrestling. Much of American Olympic history has either occurred in Colorado Springs, or has been influenced by the sports management and training opportunities within the city.

“We have a long background and a great love and respect for the Olympic movement. We have what many believe is the best high altitude Olympic Training Center in the world here. We have been watching with great interest and affection the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. There are many athletes from Colorado Springs over there competing,” said Bach.

Bach agreed with the vision which Kalofonos had suggested, and put the weight of the city government behind the project.

“Ancient Olympic, Greece is where the ancient Olympics started. The notion of having a sister city relationship with the city which is the birthplace of the Olympics is really compelling. Let your imagination run as how we can build this imagination,” said Bach.

Bach and Kalofonos talked about the possible exchanges between the cities, which could share exhibits from their museums and have cooperative efforts in many different ways.

“We could have artifacts come here from ancient Olympia. We could have a lot of people from Colorado Springs go to ancient Olympia and attend sessions of the International Olympic Academy. It made natural sense. It would also help our country with tourism. Ancient Olympia receives two million visitors a year. The two cities match perfectly, with the academics and the historical significance,” said Kalofonos.

Based upon his work for wrestling in ancient Olympia, Kalofonos was appointed by the International Olympic Academy to serve as its international relations consultant and represent the city in its dealings with Colorado Springs. Kalofonos was also authorized to handle media requests about the project. Although he lives in the USA, Kalofonos is representing the Greek city in this process. Harris sees an ironic twist in that situation.

“Last summer was my first visit, believe it or not, to Ancient Olympia. I have been here in the USA for eight years. When I was in Greece, it was such a remote location, I never visited it. I had to move to Colorado to go back to ancient Olympia working for USA Wrestling,” said Kalofonos.

Colorado Springs currently has six sister cities: Fujiyoshida, Japan; Bankstown, Australia; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico; and Smolensk, Russia. With their shared leadership in the Olympic movement, bringing Olympia, Greece into the Colorado Springs family seems to make great sense.

So what’s next? Bach says it could be a two-year process to make this relationship a reality.

Colorado Springs will partner with Colorado Springs Sister Cities International (CSSCI), which assists in developing and coordinating sister city relationships, providing artistic, educational, cultural and cultural benefits to the community. The addition of Olympia, Greece as a sister city would enhance Colorado Springs all of these areas, as well as strengthen their bond through Olympic athletics.

“We have several more meetings, with City Council and with leaders here in the city. The first step is to bring representatives of Ancient Olympia here and a few representatives from the International Olympic Academy to visit Colorado Springs. There will be a lot of activities around this process,” said Kalofonos.

And like the Olympic movement itself, it all started with wrestling.

“It is a wrestling theme. Wrestling is an original Olympic sport, one of the four core sports of the ancient Olympics. It has been a tremendous honor, and I have been humbled, working for such a great organization as USA Wrestling. Our organization has always been supportive of initiatives at the international level,” said Kalofonos.