- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 15, 2004

ATHENS — Star sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were suspended yesterday from the Greek Olympic team for missing drug tests, but their fates were left in the hands of the International Olympic Committee.

The Greek committee’s seven-member board removed the athletes pending a final decision by the IOC at a hearing tomorrow. The sprinters’ coach, Christos Tsekos, also was suspended.

The case has shamed Greece and overshadowed the opening of what was supposed to be a triumphant showcase of national pride and achievement at the Athens Games.

Making the situation worse, police are now investigating a suspicious motorcycle accident that put the two in the hospital Thursday night just hours after drug testers failed to find them in the Olympic Village. The runners sustained cuts and bruises and were to be released tomorrow.

Kenteris, the reigning 200-meter champion, is the country’s most celebrated athlete and was its top hope for a gold medal in track. Thanou, the 100-meter silver medalist in Sydney four years ago, is his training partner.

Greek committee president Lambis Nikoalou said he wanted the sprinters to be expelled immediately but was outvoted.

Tsekos, who attended the meeting, said he and his runners hadn’t broken any rules.

“There is nothing for us to be afraid of,” he said.

Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, a lawyer representing Tsekos and the sprinters, called the decision a one-day “compromise” until the IOC hearing.

“Our champions are clean,” he said. “There has been no violation of the doping regulations. They have nothing to hide. They have done nothing wrong.”

The police want to make sure. They have begun a preliminary investigation into the motorcycle wreck, which includes checking out the pair’s initial statement that an unidentified man happened by the crash and drove them 18 miles to the hospital.

Investigators have failed to find the driver or any signs of a wreck, and officers who canvassed the neighborhood were unable to locate witnesses who saw or heard the crash, police sources told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Abraham Orphanopoulos, who owns a kiosk at the site, told reporters: “I was in my kiosk and saw nothing.”

The IOC, meanwhile, is investigating whether the sprinters deliberately missed the drug test. A hearing, originally scheduled Friday, was postponed 72 hours because the athletes said they couldn’t attend because of their injuries.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said yesterday’s suspension of the athletes didn’t change the situation.

“The IOC will continue with its procedures Monday,” she said.

If the committee finds them guilty of a doping violation, they would be declared ineligible for the Games.

Kenteris, a surprise winner at the Sydney Olympics, had been considered a favorite to light the cauldron at Friday night’s opening ceremony, an honor that went to former Olympic windsurfing champion Nikolaos Kaklamanakis.

Kenteris and Thanou have a history of being hard to find for drug tests and rarely run in international competitions outside the Games. Neither has tested positive for drugs.

IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist said drug testers unsuccessfully tried to find Kenteris and Thanou a few days ago in Chicago, where they had been training with Tsekos. Nick Davies, spokesman for the International Association of Athletics Federations, said the sprinters changed plans and traveled to Essen, Germany, to see a doctor.

Last year, Kenteris and Thanou missed an out-of-competition drug test — they were in Qatar after telling anti-doping officials they would be training on the Greek island of Crete.

IAAF general secretary Istvan Gyulai said Kenteris passed two out-of-competition tests in the past 10 months, and Thanou passed two tests in the last seven months.

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