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Greece lightning strikes out at home

Daniel Howden in Athens | August 18, 2004

Costas Kenteris's withdrawal from the Athens Olympics on Wednesday over a drugs scandal caps one of the most dramatic rise and falls of modern athletics.

The 200 metre runner, dubbed Greece Lightning, hit the headlines for the first time four years ago when he shocked the athletics world by clinching the Olympic 200 metres gold.

Costas KenterisHowever, doping rumours, due in part to his rare appearances on the international circuit, have dogged the sprinter ever since he became a national hero at those Sydney Games.

When the Olympics came home four years later Kenteris and his training partner Katerina Thanou missed dope tests on the eve of the Games' opening ceremony.

On Wednesday the 31-year-old withdrew from what could have been the crowning glory of his career citing a "sense of national responsibility".

The one-time journeyman 400 metres runner took a little over 20 seconds to claim his first international title in the 2000 Games, and in the wake of the win the headline question was "Who the Hellas is Costas Kenteris?".

The answer was an athlete from the Greek holiday island of Mytilini (also known as Lesbos) who was previously best known for having one leg slightly shorter than the other.

When the quietly-spoken Kenteris was propelled into stardom he disarmingly admitted he was as "shocked as everyone else" as he stood trackside at Stadium Australia.

He returned to Greece after the last Olympics as a household name and that name now adorns everything from street signs to a high speed ferry -- Aeolos Kenteris. The ferry's owner admitted this week he may think of painting the name out.

The Greek sprinter underlined his status as the inheritor of Michael Johnson's sprint crown by adding the world and European titles to his Olympic 200 metres gold.

RECORD SMASHED

In winning the 2002 European championships he smashed his own Greek record, running 19.85 seconds, the second fastest time by a European.

After the world title in Edmonton, Kenteris earned a reputation for running only rarely and eyebrows were raised higher and higher as he seemed to actively avoid big races, where dope testing is rigorous.

His close relationship with controversial coach Christos Tzekos served only to inflame the rumours.

Virtually unseen on the Grand Prix circuit, Kenteris's last appearance came in Zurich in 2001 and he finished third behind U.S. sprinter Bernard Williams and Britain's Christian Malcolm.

In March 2003, Kenteris drew fire from Greek and international athletics authorities over a secret training trip to Qatar while the training group had told officials they were in Crete.

Tzekos was later cautioned by the Greek athletics federation (SEGAS). The former door-to-door salesman replied: "I give account of my actions to no one."

Kenteris was criticised again in 2003 after a last-minute withdrawal from the Paris world championships when he cited a previously unmentioned thigh injury.

He returned to the track after a one-year absence at the Greek championships in June and elected to run the 100 metres. He won the race in 10.18 seconds.

Kenteris had been selected to be the final torch-bearer at Athens opening ceremony.

However, Greece Lightning did not strike twice at the Olympics and it was 1996 windsurf gold medallist Nikos Kaklamanakis who provided the spark to light the cauldron.


More features | Athens 2004: The Complete Coverage

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