With Kenteris absent, Greek fans make their presence known

200 is briefly delayed

U.S. competitors jeered

disruption upsets some

Athens 2004

August 27, 2004|By Dan Mihalopoulos | Dan Mihalopoulos,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ATHENS - When they bought tickets for yesterday's Olympic track and field events, Yiannas Trakadas and Jan Araz expected to have a clear view of Greek star Kostas Kenteris as he crossed the finish line for his second straight gold in the 200-meter dash.

Trakadas and Araz instead chanted their fallen hero's name before the 200 final and booed the U.S. sprinters who swept the medals.

Greeks snapped up seats to yesterday's track events months ago because Kenteris was a heavy favorite to repeat his victory in 2000. In Sydney, he became the first Greek to win an Olympic track event since the first modern Games in 1896.

The value of those tickets plummeted when Kenteris and training partner Katerina Thanou withdrew from the Olympics last week.

The two failed to appear for doping tests the day before the opening ceremony. Authorities reportedly are investigating whether Kenteris and Thanou staged a motorcycle crash near Athens hours after officials could not find them for the tests at the Olympic Village.

Loud, defiant chants of "Kenteris" and "Hellas," the Greek word for the country, briefly delayed the beginning of the 200 final at the Olympic Stadium, despite pleas from the announcers and from some fans for quiet.

Many Greeks interviewed at the stadium said they do not believe Kenteris is free of blame, but they also alleged that athletes of all nationalities are taking performance-enhancing drugs.

So why, the Greeks asked, did anti-doping authorities target their national heroes the day before the Games began?

"The rules should be equal for everybody," said Araz, who lives in Athens. "Are there Americans who believe none of the American athletes take drugs?"

Raw emotions over the Kenteris affair boiled over in the packed stands before the gun went off for the 200 final.

Giorgios Touliatos, 31, of Athens yelled at Kenteris supporters in his section to shut up.

"OK, we heard you say it the first, second and third times," he shouted. "How many times do we have to hear it, you jerks? I paid to watch this race. Enough already."

A woman with a British accent interjected: "Is this sports or what?"

After the race, Touliatos stormed out of the stadium. He said he was angry at the fans for not allowing the competitors to concentrate, and he worried that the U.S. and British media would criticize Greeks for poor sportsmanship.

"I felt horrible," he said. "I am embarrassed to be Greek. This really presents Greece in a negative light. All these people who come to the stadium and act nationalistic know that [Kenteris] was doping."

The jeers and whistles for the U.S. sprinters followed Greek media reports accusing Americans of complicity in the Kenteris-Thanou scandal. The Athens daily Eleftherotypia reported Americans threatened to pull out of the Olympics if Greek track stars were not tested.

Greek public opinion of the United States is a highly complex topic. Many Greeks blame the American government for supporting the military dictatorship that ruled their country during the late 1960s and early 1970s. And the vast majority of Greeks opposed the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Before the doping controversy, many Greeks predicted Kenteris would light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony.

"The Americans did all this so that they could win the medals," said Naoum Ditsios of Kastoria, Greece. "We built all the stadiums in time and made them look bad for predicting that we would not be ready."

"They want to ruin our reputation because we're doing a better job of organizing the Games than they did in Atlanta," added his wife, Eva Dimou, referring to the widely criticized hosts of the 1996 Summer Games.

But Konstantinos Papaioannou of Athens said he was angry with Kenteris for spoiling a night he had eagerly looked forward to since buying tickets last summer.

"We also had bought tickets to see Thanou" in the 100, he said. "We were sure they would win."

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