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Two Greeks Drop Out

Sprinters Kenteris and Thanou, who allegedly ducked drug tests, insist on innocence but won't take part in Athens.

August 19, 2004|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — The final curtain fell Wednesday on a weeklong drama that has riveted this nation when Greece's two top sprinters, swept up in a suspected doping scandal, withdrew from the Summer Olympics.

Insisting they had not used illegal drugs, defending men's 200-meter champion Costas Kenteris and women's 100-meter silver medalist Katerina Thanou pulled out two days before the track and field events begin. Kenteris also announced he was "terminating" his collaboration with the pair's longtime coach, Christos Tzekos.

The withdrawals were announced outside an International Olympic Committee hearing where the two Greek champions had been summoned to appear before a disciplinary panel investigating their failure to show up for doping tests a week ago. Before the panel could rule, the pair and their coach said they would withdraw, making an IOC decision moot. Still, the IOC said, the seriousness of the contentions required it to refer the matter to the International Assn. of Athletic Federations for possible sanctions.

Outside, Kenteris maintained that he had never ducked a drug test.

"I was never informed that I had to attend a doping test at the Olympic village," he said.

Telling reporters he was withdrawing in "the national interest," Kenteris was firm in his own defense but less strident than on Tuesday, when he lashed out at the press and others for their handling of the case.

"I want to tell ordinary fans, who have stood by me, that I am suffering a terrible injustice," he had said Tuesday. "At this time, all those who are crucifying me are those who would come up to me and pose for photographs after every great success. But I want to add that after crucifixion comes resurrection."

Kenteris, 31, and Thanou, 29, both medal winners in the 2000 Games in Sydney, were scheduled to take the tests last Thursday but were not found in their rooms at the Olympic village. Finally located, they reportedly had agreed to return for the tests but instead went to the home of their coach. Early the next morning, they wound up hospitalized in Athens after a bizarre midnight motorcycle accident that left many here openly wondering whether it had been staged.

The incident cast a pall over the start of the Olympics, with some government officials privately castigating the athletes for missing the doping tests. As the days dragged on, government officials and police sources raised greater doubts about the timing and circumstances of the accident, claiming the injuries were inconsistent with the athletes' version of events.

If Wednesday's events allowed government officials and the IOC to get this controversy behind them, it did nothing to resolve the issue for Greek fans.

"What can I say?" said 40-year-old Stelios Theoharidis inside his shoe store in Plaka. "I am disappointed, yes, because we expected a lot from them. But angry, no."

A few shops down, Demetri Sidiris, 31, a coffee-store owner, said the scandal had not dampened his regard for the two athletes. Asked whether he was still a fan of the sprinters, he said, "I was, I am and I will be."

Sidiris also echoed the sentiment of many Greeks who contend that the two sprinters were unfairly tried in the press without any evidence.

"I personally think there was a big chase for these athletes," he said. "For two years, the media has been trying to find faults with the Greeks and the Olympics. So when everything is done on time, they had to find something else."

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