ATHENS - As athletes marched down the Olympic Stadium track yesterday in what should have been a moment of pure joy for Greeks, their biggest hopeful to win a gold medal on that track remained in a hospital a few miles away.
Instead of lighting the Olympic flame, as newspapers here had predicted, Kostas Kenteris was at the center of a controversy sparked by his failure to appear for a doping test Thursday.
The Greek Olympic Committee called an emergency meeting for today to discuss the status of Kenteris, the defending gold medalist at 200 meters, and fellow track medal contender Katerina Thanou.
The situation was further complicated after Kenteris, 31, and Thanou, 29, were injured when they apparently fell off their coach's motorcycle near Athens early yesterday.
International Olympic Committee officials had launched an inquiry after the two were not present when officials wanted to take urine samples from them for drug tests. But IOC officials put off until Monday a scheduled hearing to decide whether Kenteris and Thanou should be allowed to compete in the Games.
Doctors said earlier both athletes were in stable condition but would remain hospitalized near the Olympic Stadium until at least tomorrow.
The city's newspapers, like the fickle chorus in an ancient Greek play, turned on Kenteris and Thanou for allegedly tarnishing what was to be a day of unprecedented modern glory for the birthplace of the ancient Olympics.
"A shadow over the great celebration," read the headline of the Athens daily Eleftherotypia next to front-page photos of the two track stars and their embattled coach.
"Tell us the truth," screamed Ethnos, another Greek newspaper.
What truly happened early yesterday to two of the host nation's most celebrated Olympians remained elusive.
According to a statement from the Greek Olympic Committee, Kenteris and Thanou had left the Olympic Village to collect personal belongings Thursday. Greek officials told the doping control representative the athletes would soon return and asked for an extension.
Then, early yesterday, the pair apparently fell from a motorcycle that they were riding to the village from their coach's home in Glyfada, a seaside suburb of Athens. Police say Kenteris was the driver.
Athens police said they were not informed of the incident until 1:45 a.m. yesterday. That's when the KAT hospital in the Athens suburb of Maroussi informed authorities Kenteris and Thanou had been admitted with what were described as minor injuries.
"Some people think [the wreck] happened because they were running risks because they wanted to get back in time for a test," said Istvan Gyulai, secretary general of the international track federation [IAAF]. "Others think it was a smart move [to claim] an accident, that it was masterminded."
Doping suspicions have dogged Kenteris and Thanou, the reigning European champion at 100 meters. The second-place finisher in the women's 100 meters at the most recent European championships directly accused Thanou of doping.
Neither Kenteris nor Thanou has ever failed a drug test.
IAAF officials were to test Kenteris and Thanou recently in Chicago, where they reported they were training, but officials could not locate them.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.