08/06/2012 03:39 EDT | Updated 10/06/2012 05:12 EDT

It's silver: Sailor Pavlos Kontides claims 1st Olympic medal for Cyprus

WEYMOUTH, England - Pavlos Kontides won the first-ever Olympic medal for Cyprus when he took the silver medal in sailing's Laser class.

Kontides and Australia's Tom Slingsby were the only sailors who could have won gold in Monday's medals race. Slingsby, who led the entire regatta, covered Kontides throughout the race and won the gold.

The small island nation started taking part in the modern-day Olympics in the 1980 Moscow Games.

"I feel really wonderful," the 22-year-old Kontides said. "I guess when I have the silver medal around my neck and be back home, then all the celebrations will start, and I will really understand what I have done. It's a historic day for Cyprus sport and for myself as well. I guess I wrote my name in Cyprus sport in golden letters."

Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias personally congratulated Kontides by telephone Saturday evening, once the silver medal was assured. Christofias conveyed his personal gratitude and that of all Cypriots for his "immense success" in earning Cyprus' first Olympic medal, according to an official statement.

The Cyprus Sport Organization said Kontides' silver "marks a new beginning for Cypriot sport" in that the island is now among those countries beaming with pride as witnessing one of their athletes on the Olympic winners' podium.

Kontides said on the Cyprus Sailing Federation website that he was inspired by his father, himself a Cypriot sailing champion and former federation chief, to take up the sport at the age of nine.

"He's made us all proud. He's a talented boy and we always believed that he could do it," his mother, Androulla Kontides, told a TV station in Cyprus.