Greek stars fan scandal's flames by withdrawing

Kenteris, Thanou walk out of IOC hearing

skepticism greets denials of doping

Athens 2004

August 19, 2004|By Randy Harvey | Randy Harvey,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - On a day on which both Greece and the Olympics celebrated themselves by returning the Games to their ancient home in Olympia, two popular Greek athletes withdrew from the track and field competition amid a scandal befitting that earlier but hardly more innocent time.

The two athletes, Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, did not go quietly. In a chaotic scene yesterday outside the Hilton Hotel, where they walked out of an International Olympic Committee disciplinary hearing while it was still in session, both declared their innocence of doping violations for missing drug tests in the athletes' village a week ago today.

"I declared all the facts of my case, which state that I am innocent," Kenteris said. "I was never informed that I had to attend a doping test at the Olympic Village."

Thanou said: "The people who are accusing me are the ones who stood by me for photos after my victories. Others don't even know me. It's a very hard thing for an athlete to withdraw from the Olympic Games, especially when it's in their homeland."

Upon conclusion of the hearing, the IOC turned the case over to the International Association of Athletics Federations, which governs track and field, with a request that it consider sanctions against the athletes and their coach, Christos Tzekos. On Sunday, the Greek Olympic Committee suspended all three pending the IOC hearing.

Kenteris, 31, became Greece's most celebrated athlete after his stunning victory in the 200 meters at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The first Greek male runner to win a gold medal since 1896, when the modern Olympics were revived in Athens, he was expected by his countrymen to duplicate his feat upon the Games' return to their birthplace. The first ticket to sell out here was for the 200 final.

Thanou, 29, finished second in the 100 meters to the United States' Marion Jones in 2000.

Already having had an Aegean Sea ferry named for him, Kenteris was considered the likely choice to be further honored as the final torchbearer in Friday night's opening ceremony.

But, less than 24 hours before, news spread through Athens that he and Thanou had failed to appear for a drug test that had been scheduled for the athletes' village.

They later were taken to a hospital, where they reportedly were recovering from minor injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident.

In recent days, police have cast suspicion on the accident. The city's chief prosecutor has opened an investigation into whether it occurred. The athletes, however, remained hospitalized until Tuesday, forcing postponement of the IOC hearing.

"It pains my soul that I am subject to such hostility and slander," Kenteris told a local sports newspaper, Goal News, on Monday. He also said he had never used banned performance-enhancing drugs and he would "fight to the last drop of my blood to defend myself."

Many Greeks, however, seemed to be growing weary of his denials. Kenteris reaffirmed his status as an elite 200 runner by winning the 2001 world championship in the event, but he and Thanou attracted suspicion within the sport by competing so seldom in events in which there was drug testing.

Greek officials defended the athletes, emphasizing they had never failed a drug test.

As additional evidence against the two has been exposed, sympathy for them has all but evaporated.

The IOC confirmed it attempted to conduct an out-of-competition test on the two when they were reportedly training outside of Chicago in late July, but couldn't locate them.

The IAAF revealed this week that Kenteris passed two such tests within the past 10 months and that Thanou passed two within the past seven months. But, the IAAF said, it could not find them on three other occasions.

Elite athletes are required to report their whereabouts to officials at all times so they can be contacted for random, out-of-competition tests, part of the international sports crackdown on steroids and other banned substances.

Now, even Greeks are suspicious after learning of the numerous missed tests.

"A clear sky is not afraid of lightning," one cab driver said last week.

"Tell Us the Truth," the headline in one Greek newspaper demanded of Kenteris and Thanou.

Olympic corruption is hardly new to Greece or to the Games. Judges at the ancient Games were concerned about potions that were believed to enhance performance, but they were more vigilant in looking out for curses and spells that athletes cast upon each other.

There also were numerous incidents of athletes bribing each other in order to win. Fines levied against them were used to help build the gigantic statue of Zeus at Olympia.

But Greeks are particularly sensitive to this controversy, which occurred just as they were opening the Games to overwhelming praise after years of doubt about whether they could successfully organize them.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called the incident a national embarrassment.

As Greek columnist Giorgos Papachristou wrote: "Just when we are ready to look the rest of the world in the eye and say, `Yes, we managed it,' came the news with our champions and the whole world is now looking at us with curiosity."

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