Paraskevi ("Voula") Patoulidou (Greek: Παρασκευή "Βούλα" Πατουλίδου, born 29 March 1965) was born in Tripotamo (now part of Florina). A prolific 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 the candidate for the Prefecture of Thessaloniki in the local elections of Autumn 2006 supported by the opposition party of PASOK, but lost the election to Panagiotis Psomiadis.
On 5 August 1992, Patoulidou was celebrating for having qualified for the final in 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, made a mistake and 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 silver 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, dammit!”, 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-Goode (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. After the 2 medals in 1992 the medal haul for Greece at the Olympics increased 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 participated in her second Olympic Games' Final, in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, finishing 10th.
In the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Patoulidou was a member of the 4 × 100 m relay team that reached the semi-finals and ended up in the 13th place. She was given an honorary place in the 4 × 100 m relay team in the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, participating for the fifth time in the Olympic Games 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, Kakhi Kakhiashvili 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.