Paraskevi "Voula" Patoulidou was born on March 29, 1965, in Tripotamos, near Florina. A versatile athlete, Patoulidou throughout her athletics career competed in the 100 metres, 100 metres hurdles and in the long jump events. Patoulidou became a Greek sporting legend in 1992, when she was the surprise winner of the Women's 100 m hurdles race at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. She was a candidate for Thessaloniki prefecture in the local elections of Autumn 2006, supported by the opposition party of PASOK, but lost to Panagiotis Psomiadis.
On August 5, 1992, Patoulidou was celebrating like a little kid, for she had managed to qualify for the final of the 100 m hurdles by improving her personal best from 12.96 (set in the qualifying round) to 12.88 seconds in the semi-finals. This success made her the first Greek woman ever to reach a track final in the Olympic Games, a great feat in its own right.
One day later, however, one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Olympic Games was to take place. The clear favourite of the 100 m hurdles final, Gail Devers of the United States, tripped on the last hurdle. Patoulidou took advantage and lunged her body forward for the finishing line. Having crossed the line in 12.64 seconds (a Greek national record that still stands), Patoulidou immediately threw her hands in the air celebrating what she thought was a bronze medal. When she watched the replay of the race on the stadium's big screen and realised that she had won the race, Patoulidou fell to her knees and put her hands over her face in astonishment. In her first interview to the Greek journalists minutes after the race, Patoulidou dedicated her medal to her home country by saying “For Greece, damn it!”, a catchphrase that is still in use.
The official results:
- Paraskevi Patoulidou (GRE) - 12.64
- LaVonna Martin (USA) - 12.69
- Yordanka Donkova (BUL) - 12.70
- Lynda Tolbert (USA) - 12.75
- Gail Devers (USA) - 12.75
- Aliuska Lopez (CUB) - 12.87
- Natalya Kolovanova (CIS) - 13.01
- Odalys Adams (CUB) - 13.57
The unheralded victory made Patoulidou the first female Greek sportswoman to win an Olympic gold medal, Along with Pyrros Dimas, who won a gold medal in weightlifting during the same Games, Patoulidou is considered to have inaugurated a new era for Greek sports. Notably, Greek athletes often refer to Patoulidou's triumph as the defining moment and inspiration in their quest for Olympic success. Indeed, the medal haul for Greece at the Summer Olympics has increased from 2 in 1992 to 8 in 1996, 13 in 2000 and 16 in 2004.
After her Olympic gold medal Patoulidou decided to switch back to the long jump, her first love, believing that she had achieved as much as possible in the 100 m hurdles. She is vindicated for her choice when she participates in her second Olympic Games' Final, in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, finishing 10th.
Patoulidou went on to participate in the long jump in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and was honoured with a place in the 4x100 m relay team in the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 at the age of 39.
She was the only woman amongst the five Greek sporting legends chosen to be the penultimate runners in the 2004 Olympic torch relay, along with Nick Galis, Mimis Domazos, Akakios Kakhiasvili and Ioannis Melissanidis (see 2004 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony). She was also one of the penultimate runners of the 1996 torch relay in Atlanta, joining Evander Holyfield and Janet Evans.
- 100 m: 11" 27. (1990)
- 100 m hurdles: 12" 64. (1992) (National Record)
- Long Jump: 6" 71. (1995)
- 60 m Hurdles: 8" 08. (1990)
- 1st place, Olympic Games, Barcelona, 100 m hurdles (1992)
- 1st place, Mediterranean Games, Athens, 100 m (1991)
- 2nd place, Mediterranean Games, Athens, 100 m hurdles (1991)
- 1st place, Balkan Games, 100 m (1990)
- 1st place, Balkan Games, 100 m hurdles (1990)
- 1st place, Balkan Games, Long Jump (1994)
- 10th place, Olympic Games, Atlanta, Long Jump (1996)