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Greek Sprinters Vow to Fight Drug Allegations - 2004-08-17

The two Greek sprinters who face an Olympic hearing Wednesday into whether they deliberately missed a drug test last week have been discharged from the Athens hospital where they were treated for minor injuries they sustained in a mysterious motorbike accident. The ongoing saga of Greece's two top track and field medal hopefuls has convulsed the Olympic host nation.

The two athletes, reigning 200-meter champion Kostas Kenteris and his training partner, women's 100-meter silver medalist Katerina Thanou, left the hospital separately vowing to fight the drug allegations.

Kenteris denied ever having taken any banned substances and called himself the victim of a big injustice.

Thanou told reporters she is saddened by the affair and promised to fight for her reputation.

The International Olympic Committee disciplinary hearings into why the duo missed the drug test were postponed twice, after the athletes said they were too injured to attend. They were admitted to the hospital last Friday hours after they failed to show up for the drug test.

Athens' chief prosecutor has opened an investigation into the motorbike accident to find out whether it was part of an attempt by the sprinters and their coach to cover up their failure to take the drug test.

The incident nearly overshadowed the Olympic Games opening ceremony Friday and deeply embarrassed and angered many Greeks, who now regard the two track stars as fallen heroes.

Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos says the case of the two sprinters, in his words, has shaken Greece to its very roots. He told reporters that the matter should have already been closed.

"If a wound is open, it should be closed as quickly as possible," he said. "Otherwise, more problems are created and a bad image of Greece, in this particular case, internationally."

But Mr. Roussopoulos says it is the responsibility of the IOC and the Greek Olympic Committee, which has already temporarily suspended the pair from the national team, to deal with the case.

If the IOC examiners rule that the two sports stars deliberately missed the drug test and should be banned from competition, their lawyer has vowed to appeal. A special panel would have 24 hours to consider the appeal, and their fate would be sealed just before the track events begin Friday.