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IOC Hearing for Suspended Greek Sprinters Delayed to Wednesday - 2004-08-16

An Olympic hearing to determine why Greece's two top sprinters missed a drug test last week has been postponed again to give the athletes more time to recover from a mysterious traffic accident. The drama of reigning Olympic 200-meter champion Kostas Kenteris and his training partner, Katerina Thanou, herself a silver medalist in the 100-meters, has embarrassed the Greeks.

The latest twists in the saga of Greece's best track and field medal hopefuls came Monday, when their lawyer emerged from the International Olympic Committee offices in Athens to tell reporters that his clients have been given until Wednesday to show up at a hearing on their case.

A short time later, the Athens hospital where the athletes are recovering from injuries they sustained in a motorbike accident last Friday announced they would be released on Tuesday.

Police have intensified their investigation into the accident, and questioned the two sprinters about the circumstances of the crash, the exact details of which still remain unclear. The accident occurred just after the two were supposed to take a drug test, but failed to show up. In obtaining the extension of their hearing, the lawyer for Mr. Kenteris and Ms. Thanou, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, pledged that his clients will personally appear before the IOC examiners on Wednesday.

The Greek Olympic Committee has temporarily suspended the sprinters and their coach from the national team, until the IOC decides whether they deliberately missed the drug test. If the IOC decision goes against them, they could be banned from competition for up to one year.

The scandal surrounding the two athletes has dealt a heavy blow to Greek pride. President Costis Stephanopoulos has described the case as a "great embarrassment". The news media refer to the two sprinters as "fallen heroes," and are demanding closure to the affair.

Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos was peppered with questions Monday by reporters asking why the government has not stepped in to demand that the two athletes be withdrawn from the Olympics. Mr. Roussopoulos says that is an issue beyond the government's purview.

"There is the IOC, and there is the organizing committee," he said. "They are the competent authorities. They have to complete their investigations."

But the spokesman did admit that the failure of the two sprinters to take their drug test Friday violates Olympic regulations and contravenes the spirit the Games are supposed to inspire.

"This is not a pleasant issue, with regard to either the government or individual Greek citizens," said Mr. Roussopoulos. "Greece is the homeland of Olympism, and we are here, all of us, to actually project and promote the spirit of Olympism."

Their lawyer says the two sprinters will fight any decision to withdraw them from the Games. A special panel is supposed to rule within 24 hours of an appeal. So, the two will know exactly where they stand just before the Olympic track competitions begin on Friday.