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Greece shamed again at their own Games

August 22, 2004 16:16 IST

The Greeks were shamed again at their own Olympics on Sunday when bronze medal weightlifter Leonidas Sampanis was kicked out after failing a dope test.

His performance had triggered celebrations across the spiritual homeland of the Olympics, already reeling after Greece's top two sprinters pulled out after missing drug tests.

The International Olympic Committee, which has promised "zero tolerance" for drug cheats, expelled Sampanis from the Athens Games and demanded his medal back.

"I swear, honestly I have never taken any banned substances, I swear on the lives of my two angels, my children," Sampanis had said after testing positive for high levels of testosterone.

In a joint statement to a Greek newspaper, sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, medal winners at the Sydney Games, also asked an angry nation to believe in their innocence.

OLYMPIC DISPUTE

The Olympics would not be the Olympics without a spate of furious rows -- and Athens is no exception.

South Korea confirmed they will lodge an appeal with sport's supreme legal body over scoring errors at the gymnastics which robbed them of a gold medal.

Paul Hamm, who became the first American to win the Olympic men's all-round gymnastics title, should not have been awarded the gold, the sport's governing body ruled on Saturday.

But Hamm would keep his medal despite a scoring error which robbed South Korean bronze medallist Yang Tae-young of the title, the FIG said.

Germany lost their two gold medals in the equestrian three-day eventing competition when France, Britain and the United States won an appeal to sport's highest appeal body.

"All I want to do now is stand in the corner and howl," said German equestrian team chief Reinhardt Wendt.

Amid all the gloom over doping and judging, the rowing regatta offered another day of superb competition.

In the Blue Riband race of the Games, the United States beat fierce rivals and favourites Canada to win their first Olympic men's eight's race in 40 years.

But it was Romania, winners of the women's eight gold, that offered one of the most heart-warming stories of the Games.

Romania's top women rowers decided years ago to put away their oars, go home and raise families. Now nearly 40 years old, the mighty mothers are back.

But what about the husbands left behind?

Elisabetha Lipa, one of the best rowers in history who landed her fifth Olympic gold on Sunday, had no doubts about the spouses: "They have two choices: to divorce us or to wait. They are waiting."

For 10 pulsating seconds, the fastest men on earth take centre stage on Sunday evening at the Olympics to run for the ultimate prize -- the 100 metres gold medal.

"It's a very fast track. We're going to have a party," American defending champion Maurice Greene said after fast times in the heats sparked expectations of a new world record.

MEMORIES OF MARATHON

In a women's 100 metres final shorn of many of its big names, dashing Belarussian Yuliya Nesterenko produced the race of her life to land the coveted title late on Saturday.

"I believe in God and I believe God saw all my efforts and helped me," said the shell-shocked champion, after a disbelieving lap of honour followed her 10.93 seconds of glory.

At the far end of the runner's universe, Athens is staging a spectacular stamina test linking ancient and modern Greece.

Britain's Paula Radcliffe will seek to prove on Sunday that she is the greatest long-distance woman in athletics history.

She is hot favourite to land the marathon which starts near the site of the battle of Marathon in 490 BC and ends in the graceful marble stadium built for the revived Olympics of 1896.

The Olympic swimming competition ended on a high note on Saturday night.

The United States set a world record to win the men's 4x100 metres medley relay and allow Michael Phelps to match Soviet gymnast Alexander Dityatin's 1980 record for the most medals at a single Games.

He did not even have to get wet to enter the history books. Phelps pulled out of the final to give team mate Ian Crocker a chance to compete but still won gold because he swam the heats.

"I just wanted to be the first Michael Phelps," he said. "I did something that no one's done before."


Athens 2004: The Complete Coverage

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