Theodoros Iakovidis has been competing in Yerevan as part of his quest to qualify for Paris 2024 ©Brian Oliver

A Greek weightlifter who broke down in tears and announced his retirement immediately after his effort at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is back and trying to qualify for Paris 2024.

Theodoros Iakovidis returned to the sport when his tears went viral and caused a huge swell of public support for him.

In the days after his return from Tokyo people would stop their car and come and talk to him when they saw him on the street, and he soon had financial backing in the form of sponsorships from Greece’s biggest media company and largest dairy.

"For the first time after all these years I am a full-time athlete," said 32-year-old Iakovidis yesterday, after his performance behind the world’s best teenage weightlifter, Karlos Nasar, in the European Championships here in Yerevan.

He felt he had "the support of the whole world, it was all was very moving", after his tears.

"I just didn’t expect it - I got infinite love from people I didn't even know."

The 89 kilograms lifter was unable to match his best efforts in Yerevan because his preparations have been hampered by a wrist injury.

Iakovidis has previously suffered shoulder, elbow and knee injuries - he needed surgery after finishing 11th at Rio 2016 and was barely able to walk at one point before Tokyo.

At the time he felt he was "completely alone with no support".

"I missed three months of training because of the wrist injury.

Iakovidis, left, with teammates at a national training camp ©Theodoros Iakovidis
Iakovidis, left, with teammates at a national training camp ©Theodoros Iakovidis

"At my age it’s not easy, but I will keep trying to qualify for my third Olympic Games," said eighth-placed Iakovidis, who made more than his 338kg total here in his national championships last year.

He needs to improve by about 20kg but he has lifted 360kg before, at a higher weight, and now he can pay for help in his quest to regain full fitness.

Iakovidis no longer has to try and get by on €200 (£177/$220) a month from the Hellenic Weightlifting Federation, or get stressed about working as well as training to pay the bills.

He can pay professionals - doctor, physio, sports psychologist and nutritionist.

"I could never afford this before," said Iakovidis, who is also planning ahead and taking coaching qualifications.

"I have always tried hard and I will continue to try hard."

Back in Tokyo, Iakovidis had tearfully told an interviewer live on camera, that he had to walk to training because he could not afford fuel for his car.

"I'm not crying out of sadness because I seemingly didn't perform well (he finished 11th again), I'm crying because it is all over," he said.

"I can't perform at my 100 per cent and have my head calm enough to train and be able to give out what is worthy of the Greek flag.

"It's unfortunate to be ashamed to go to the physical therapist because he won't take your money when he knows you can’t afford the consultation.

"I can't take any more of it."

Iakovidis attracted significant public support following his tears during Tokyo, helped by articles in Greek media ©Brian Oliver
Iakovidis attracted significant public support following his tears during Tokyo, helped by articles in Greek media ©Brian Oliver

Two Greek superstars from basketball, the National Basketball Association champions Giannis and Thanasis Antentokoumpo, were among those who called to offer support and Thanasis said: "We all need to apologise to Theodoros.

"He can't ‘lift’ that heavy burden all on his own - we are all behind him."

Because of the catastrophic economic crisis in Greece that began in 2009, public funding plummeted.

There was also a period of turmoil at the Hellenic Weightlifting Federation involving the leadership and the head coach, which "was damaging for all the athletes because there was no stability" said Iakovidis.

He took up weightlifting because he was inspired by Greece’s "Dream Team" in the 1990s and early 2000s - Leonidas Sabanis, Valerios Leonidis, Viktor Mitrou, Pyrros Dimas and Kakhi Kakhiashvili.

Dimas, who like Kakhiashvili won three Olympic golds, is now general secretary of the Hellenic Federation alongside its first female President Theano Zagliveri.

"The Dream Team and the federation could do more, we need more young weightlifters coming through, we need a development programme," said Iakovidis.

"But to be honest it is not only the federation’s responsibility.

"The athletes don’t get the support they deserve because there is no help from the Government.

"There is much still to be done, but for me individually things have worked out."

There was a welcome medal for Greece at the IWF World Youth Championships in Albania, where three of the four athletes in the team finished 14th in their weight category but one, 14-year-old Maria-Stratoudaki, was third at 49kg.

Greece sent seven to Yerevan, only two of whom made the top 10.

"That’s a big team for us nowadays," said Iakovidis.

He will stay in weightlifting for a long time now, he told a Greek magazine in an interview after his sponsorships from Antenna and Delta were secured.

"I will definitely pursue coaching, not with the national team but at a club.

"They are the nurseries of the national teams and champions are built there.

"It is very beautiful to see a 10-year-old athlete develop and reach the peak of his or her career to join the national team, and even more so if you have played a role in it."