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OLYMPICS / ATHENS 2004

Greeks Vote to Oust Two Sprinters

However, Greek Olympic Committee passes final decision on Kenteris and Thanou to the IOC.

August 15, 2004|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — In the latest twist to a bizarre saga that has captivated this nation, the Greek Olympic Committee voted Saturday to withdraw sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou from the Athens Games -- but only until the International Olympic Committee makes a final decision.

The move came after Kenteris and Thanou missed a doping test in the athletes' village Thursday evening, prompting the IOC to launch a "disciplinary commission." Early Friday morning, the pair were admitted to a suburban Athens hospital after a purported motorcycle crash; their injuries have been described as minor but they remain hospitalized.

Until this incident, Kenteris, gold medalist in the 200 meters at Sydney four years ago, had been perhaps Greece's most popular athlete. Thanou, his training partner, won silver in Sydney in the 100 meters.

The IOC is due to consider the matter Monday.

Kenteris had been a likely choice to light the Olympic caldron Friday. Greek newspapers and others have since turned on the two sprinters with the fervor of the betrayed, their escapades having embarrassed the nation as it prepared to stage the Games for the first time in 108 years.

The incident reflects an aggressive new approach to drug testing by the IOC.

Testers went to find Kenteris and Thanou shortly after they checked into the village Thursday but could not find them. The IOC took the same tack last week with Kenyan boxer David Munyasia: He was tested hours after he arrived Aug. 6 in the village and the results came back positive for the stimulant cathine. He was sent home.

"We're living in a new world order," said Steven Ungerleider, author of "Faust's Gold," which detailed the East German doping program from the 1970s and 1980s. "The IOC is saying ... we are not playing favorites, we will not have certain people above the law."

The IOC has announced plans to conduct more than 3,000 tests here, up 25% from 2000. At Sydney, it began testing for the blood-booster EPO. A test for human growth hormone is near, if it isn't already in place; the IOC isn't saying, to keep would-be cheaters guessing.

IOC President Jacques Rogge, who has made the anti-doping campaign a priority, has made it plain that Kenteris' iconic status would play no role in the inquiry. "The Games are bigger than individuals," Rogge said.

Rogge took the opportunity at Friday night's opening ceremony, with the athletes of 202 nations gathered on the Olympic Stadium infield and a worldwide television audience tuned in, to say: "Athletes, through your conduct, give us reasons to believe in sport that is increasingly credible and pure, by refusing doping and respecting fair play."

Meanwhile, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport said the case of U.S. sprinter Torri Edwards would be heard Monday in Athens. She tested positive in April for the banned stimulant nikethamide and has appealed a two-year suspension that would keep her out of the Games.

Jamaican sprinter Steve Mullings, who tested positive in June for the steroid testosterone, is awaiting a decision by national authorities in his case.

The Greek Olympic Committee's action came after a 5-1 vote -- the lone dissenter being the committee's president, Lambis Nikolaou, who is also a member of the IOC's executive board.

The vote gave the committee political cover, passing responsibility and accountability to the IOC.

But if it had been solely up to him, Nikolaou said, the decision would have been easy: "Immediately out."

Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, a lawyer representing the sprinters, denied they had broken doping rules. "The Greeks should know their champions are clean," he said. "They have never taken banned substances."

Both Kenteris and Thanou train with coach Christos Tzekos. The Greek Olympic Committee's "withdrawal" action Saturday applies to him as well.

Tzekos, who has been a focus of anti-doping officials for years, denied wrongdoing.

"We have done everything by the book. We have nothing to be afraid of and I would like to thank everyone who supports us," he told reporters.

Last year, Kenteris and Thanou were training in Qatar when they were supposed to be working out on the Greek island of Crete. Anti-doping officials had not been told where they were, even though the rules require athletes to tell officials their whereabouts at all times -- to make no-notice, out-of-competition tests possible.

Afterward, international track and field officials were assured such an episode would not happen again.

Officials were trying to sort out whether tests were missed in Chicago last week and in Israel in late July. Under anti-doping protocols, one missed test means a warning; a second can mean a two-year ban.

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